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Bonza COO departs ahead of planned launch

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Bonza COO departs ahead of planned launch

Bonza co-founder and chief operating officer Peter McNally has reportedly left the startup airline just five months after being appointed the position, possibly putting the airline’s planned mid-year launch in jeopardy.

According to the report by the AFR, McNally, a former Virgin Blue alumni who founded the budget startup carrier alongside ex-colleagues Tim Jordan and Rick Howell, has now promptly exited Bonza, just months ahead of the airline’s planned launch of its first domestic routes.

It comes just three weeks after Bonza finally revealed the details of its initial network offering of 25 routes to 16 destinations, including Cairns, Mildura, Newcastle and Whitsunday Coast.

McNally, a previous senior operational manager for Virgin Blue and former Swissport vice-president of airports and commercial, was formally appointed as Bonza’s COO in October.

McNally was also previously COO of Airnorth in Darwin, chief advisor for operations for Indian LCC IndiGo, and earlier, vice-president for network operations at Qatar Airways.

A Bonza spokesperson confirmed to the AFR that McNally had “parted ways” will the upcoming airline.

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“He leaves behind a very capable team who have been, and will continue to be, leading our regulatory application process,” they said. The circumstances of his exit currently remain unknown.

The spokesperson also reportedly downplayed speculation that McNally’s exit from the company will likely result in a delay to Bonza’s ability to secure its Air Operators Certificate from the Australian aviation safety regulator.

Bonza CEO Tim Jordan told Australian Aviation last month that his airline is on track to secure its AOC from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and launch its first domestic flights in mid-2022.

The airline, backed by US private investment firm 777 Partners, has long claimed to embrace a “point to point” model for leisure travellers, servicing routes ignored by incumbent rivals at low frequency, in a business model similar to other low-cost carriers across the US and Europe.

The news comes as Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka shared her concerns about upcoming start-up carrier Bonza’s business strategy, arguing that the low-cost, low-frequency leisure travel model that functions overseas may not translate into Australia.

“If you’re connecting two cities that have never seen a connection before, if you’re flying it twice a week, it’s very hard to build an underlying presence in that marketplace,” Hrdlicka told The Australian.

“The way that’s done in Europe and in the US and Canada, it’s a huge market with millions and millions of people and you can approach that with group tours and things like that which don’t really exist in the same way in Australia,” she said.

Ultimately, Hrdlicka called Bonza’s strategy an “interesting idea” and “a different approach”.

“We’ll just see how it plays out,” she said.

Hrdlicka is far from the first Australian aviation boss to criticise Bonza’s strategy, particularly the start-up’s assertion that it will be focusing on segments of the market currently unserved by any major domestic airlines.

In November, Rex Airlines deputy chairman John Sharp questioned which routes Bonza could introduce that would both be presently unserved by Qantas, Rex or Virgin, and have adequate demand to sustain a new market entrant.

“That’s a mystery to us … what are those markets? If they are worth servicing, Qantas, Virgin or Rex would be in there doing it,” Sharp said.

Later, in December, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce warned that the airline will “defend our turf” against new entrant Bonza, and similarly cast doubt on whether there are any remaining domestic or regional leisure routes that remain untouched by Qantas.

“We’ve started nearly 50 new domestic routes [since 2020]. So, I would have thought we have most of them covered, but maybe we don’t.

“So that’s great if they find a unique value proposition that they can make money on. Fantastic, fill your boots up on it, and shame on us if we’ve missed it.”

Despite criticisms, Bonza CEO Tim Jordan has remained confident that Bonza will deliver on its promise to connect direct regional and leisure destinations for far cheaper than its competitors.

“The rest of the world gives us that confidence,” Jordan told Australian Aviation.

“We’re not trying to do anything particularly smart and clever, or unique. We’re actually just trying to replicate [a model that] has already been successfully executed elsewhere in the world.

“So that gives us that confidence.”

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