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New low-cost airline broadens travel horizons

Bonza’s Tim Jordan.


New low-cost airline broadens travel horizons

The travel landscape is about to change dramatically for families in the regions who want an affordable holiday or simply to see more of each other. DOT WHITTINGTON talks to the brains behind Bonza during the emerging airline’s first flight into Victoria from the Sunshine Coast.

Tim Jordan is laid-back yet enthusiastic and knows his business inside out. He’s the CEO and founding force behind Bonza, the new independent “Allstralian” airline.

Connecting regional cities in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, Bonza is aimed squarely at the leisure market.

Its schedules and routes are designed to work for holidaymakers and family visits more than business travellers or, as Tim puts it, “it’s about the many not the few”.

“It’s flying from A to B without the C – connections, complexity and cost,” he says.

And there’s no doubt that Bonza is price stimulated.  Tim is adamant that if a flight takes only an hour, the cost should be about $50. Currently it’s closer to $200.

“If it’s $70 people will do it; if it’s $270 they won’t,” he says. “We are creating a new market. Business travellers will fly, but the rest choose to drive because it’s too expensive, especially when it is to regional centres.”

Forget the long drive, Bonza makes it feasible to pop up and visit the kids in Cairns for a wedding anniversary celebration, or the grandkids in Rockhampton for a birthday party.

“A three-day trip becomes possible,” Tim says. “Rather than head off for two weeks once a year, it will be affordable to visit three or four times a year for a few days at a time.”

Bonza is about connecting regional centres with direct flights – 93 per cent of its routes are not currently served by any airline. It will be operating 27 routes from 17 destinations (some are still subject to regulatory approval).

This is about unserviced and underserviced regional destinations – from the Sunshine Coast it’s possible to fly direct to Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, Tamworth, Albury, Mildura, Tullamarine and Avalon, the jumping off point for the Spirit of Tasmania from Geelong.

Or in Queensland, to Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Toowoomba Wellcamp, and the Whitsundays.

Essentially, this means point to point travel without the need to fly to a capital city for an often expensive connecting flight to a regional centre – or driving.

“It’s about connecting the country,” Tim says. “Australia’s demographics have changed in even the past three to five years. Half the population no longer lives in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. A lot of people have moved to regional centres that have a population of 100,000-plus yet these centres connect to the state capital but few other places.”

For example, there are 12 to 15 flights a day between Rockhampton and Brisbane, but to get to the Sunshine Coast, if you can find a connection at all, it is going to be very expensive.

And Sunshine Coasters wanting to go to Cairns or Mackay, have to drive to Brisbane and catch a flight from there. The only other option is to drive or find a stopping service up the coast, which is also going to be very expensive.

“People want to explore beyond the capital cities,” Tim says.

Bonza will have two planes and a spare based at its Sunshine Coast headquarters. There will be another two at Tullamarine in Melbourne, which is the only capital city in the initial 17 destinations.

It is the first time Australia has had an independent carrier since Virgin bought Tiger Airways in 2013 and for the consumer this means choice. It’s independent and not the low-coast wing of a major airline so can set its own priorities.

But while ticket prices are budget, comfort and service are premium.

Bonza has a new Boeing 737 fleet and has paid a lot of attention to comfort, so that you can cross your legs or reach the bag under your seat without having to be a contortionist.

This, Tim explains, is because the seats are slimline, allowing more room for legs. They have also been designed with a concave back to give the valuable extra centimetre or two for knees. The head rest is adjustable in all directions and there’s a USB point and a power point.

But the bottom line, Tim says, is not just about doing things well, but being able to recover and handle things well if something goes wrong.

Technology has been harnessed to solve the problem of not knowing what’s going on that drives travellers up the wall.

“We have always got backup should a flight have to be cancelled and if things were to go really wrong, we can respond instantly,” he says. “If there’s a mechanical issue we can immediately let passengers know another plane is on the way, and send a voucher online to get food and a drink while waiting.

“It’s not about the good times but how you handle the bad times. We have to deliver and surpass on our promises.”

One piece of advice Tim offers intending travellers is to pass through security immediately and have coffee on the other side as for some regional airports the biggest plane they have seen is a 70-seat turbo-prop.

“We come to town with 186 seats but it’s the same security point, so all we can say is please go through security on arrival at the airport or as soon as you check in your bags – which is 90 minutes before we fly – and get your coffee after security,” he says.

“We will learn a lot quickly and we know that not everything will work and we might have to change some things, but without exception, we will be using technology for communication and customer focus.

“It will be a quality experience, regardless of the price you pay. We are not cutting corners,” he says.

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