Inside Volotea – Europe’s Only Boeing 717 Operator

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With the airline nabbing Airbus’ shuttle flights between Toulouse and Hamburg, Volotea is a small but growing European low-cost carrier. Founded in 2012 by Carlos Munoz and Lazaro Ros of Vueling fame, this is more than just another Ryanair wannabe. With a fleet including Boeing 717s, a focus on families and an eye on an electric future, this is a unicorn airline to watch.

Boeing 717 on final approach in Volotea Livery
The Boeing 717 has been the backbone of the Volotea Fleet since its inception in 2012. Photo: Volotea

Who is Volotea again?

As reported by CAPA, Volotea began operations in 2012 out of Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, with a fleet of just two Boeing 717 aircraft. Volotea focused on under-served route pairs where it sometimes had 100% capacity. This innovative strategy, along with an attitude of flexibility and fearlessness, allowed Volotea to try, fail and hone its efforts on routes where success lay. In CEO Carlos Munoz’s own words in a 2018 interview with FlightGlobal,

“There are markets that for whatever reason [failed], either because the numbers showed too high or they were a one-off [failure]. We need to learn from that – in this company making a mistake is not a problem, but not learning from that [mistake] quickly, that is a problem.” – Carlos Munoz, CEO Volotea

Opportunity was also a key word in Volotea’s development. Their decision to take on the evergreen Boeing 717 was sparked as a result of the takeover of AirTran by Southwest, leaving Boeing with a surplus of the type. Further, the switch to the larger Airbus A319 may be another inspired move taking advantage of many of the type coming off lease with European LCCs. This switch is having an obvious impact on capacity. Is it a signal Volotea is starting to stake its claim as more than a niche player and an LCC to watch?

Continuing to grow: To 2020 and beyond

Fast-forward to 2018, and Volotea had become Europe’s fastest-growing independent LCC according to CAPA. From just two aircraft in 2012, RusTourismNews has reported the airline is set to complete more than 62,000 flights covering 346 routes in 2020. This with a fleet of 38 aircraft a whopping 1800% increase since its inception in 2012!

The airline has proven it has the basics right, being highlighted by FlightStats as Europe’s most punctual low cost airline for the first three months of 2019. The news that it had secured Airbus’s shuttle service is another signal of the industry’s confidence in the carrier.

Two Airbus A319 Aircraft in Volotea Livery
The Airbus A319 is a signal of Volotea’s growing maturity and strengthening relationship with Airbus. Photo: Cjp24 via Wikimedia Commons

The ingredients for continued growth are all there, but is it enough in such a crowded and volatile market? As previously noted on Simple Flying, the demise of other LCCs, especially Agile Azur, provides expansion opportunities for Volotea to markets including North Africa. If growth is not on the menu, Volotea should clearly be planning on a fruitful dessert!

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But it is not all in the numbers. Volotea has some unique approaches and innovative thinking that might see it become a true unicorn of Europe’s LCCs.

The Tesla of the airline industry?

Whilst we think airlines, particularly LCCs, are focused on minimizing costs, Volotea has taken the unique step of investing in an electric future. Fitting nicely with its focus on slimmer under-served routes, Volotea has announced it is working with DANTE Aeronautical to investigate the development of a hybrid electric aircraft.

Confused as to what a hybrid aircraft might look like? Think of it as a ‘plug-in hybrid’ car. Power for the aircraft will come from what DANTE terms a Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) system, fueled by batteries with a conventional engine providing a boost for the batteries if needed.

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DANTE AeroNautical's DAX-19 Hybrid Electric Aircraft in Volotea Livery flying through the clouds
What the future of aviation might look like, DANTE Aeronautical’s DAX-19 Hybrid Electric Aircraft. Photo: DANTE Aeronautical

The DAX-19, as it has been designated, is a 19-35 seat aircraft with a range of 400 nautical miles. At present details are slim, however, Volotea’s out of the box thinking is arguably a step in the right direction, and the 3-D rendering in the YouTube video below looks impressive.

Volotea’s experience in the target markets, as well as its economic focus, are likely to ensure this project is not only a technical but a commercial success. What do you think? A more viable alternative to Eviation’s Alice? But this is still a little pie in the sky; what innovative approaches are we seeing closer to the ground?

Family-friendly features

We usually associate LCCs with bare-bones offerings, but Volotea has some groovy power-ups on the menu that are worth talking about. At a time of year when many families are traveling and airports are crowded with people and those dreaded wheel-aboard suitcases, Volotea now offers to check in your carry on bags. As their tweet says ‘move through the airport easily.’

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I know, you are all thinking this is just a ploy to speed up boarding and provide extra space for those extra-large carry ons. You are probably right, but let’s face it, it’s a great way to make a good news story out of an operational reality.

Traveling for the first time or with kids, you will love Volotea’s ‘First Flight’ certificates and paper airplane cutouts, adding to its unicorn status. In a sea of LCCs it’s these little aspects that add value and help Volotea to stand out, build a strong customer base and transform from niche player to marker leader.

Keen to jump on board?

Want to get a closer look inside their Boeing 717 or Airbus A319? For our regular seat gurus out there, or just those like me that are keen to explore, you can jump aboard their aircraft virtually with a 360 tour providing the opportunity to locate that perfect seat.

My tip? Whilst row 15 on the Boeing 717 looks to have the extra space of an exit row, you miss out on a tray table, not a seat to enjoy an in-flight coffee or the intriguing Dondolo Croissant. I must confess no amount of Googling can reveal the intricacies of this delicacy…have you tried one? Make sure you tell us about it in the comments section.

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Conclusion: Rocky road – The chocolate of course

If airlines were like chocolate, Volotea would have to be Rocky Road. A solid base with surprise hits of softness and smarts, that overall give you a warm gooey feeling about its future.

Have you flown Volotea? Eaten a Dondolo Croissant on-board? Have an opinion on their electric future? Make sure you add to the discussion in the comments!

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