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New flight path: Bonza changes direction on number of routes offered and service schedule

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Fewer routes, some services cancelled, but more flights added between stronger-performing destinations – they’re among the big changes planned as Bonza regroups after five months in the skies.

In an open letter to Bonza customers, released at noon today on the fledgling airline’s social media channels, chief commercial officer Carly Povey outlines changes to the route map and schedule that she says are necessary to earn travellers’ trust and deliver a more reliable service.

The changes are designed to set the airline up for long-term success and reduce the likelihood of cancellations.

They will come into effect from August 1 and will impact some customers who have already booked on affected routes, as well as some flights to other destinations.

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The Bonza Facebook post to customers today at noon.

The tough decisions come as Bonza prepares to go on sale with its late October 2023-April 2024 schedule that will allow travellers to book this year’s Christmas and summer holidays, as well as next year’s Easter break.

Feedback to date has been positive on the new Bonza fleet of aircraft, the all-Australian products on the in-flight menu on demand via the app, and the crew. But in the letter, Ms Povey acknowledges that “not everyone has had a good experience with Bonza and we need to stare directly into why that is – specifically when we cancel or delay flights”.

The changes seek to earn customers’ trust from the beginning of the company’s journey and are expected to help the airline to take “a step back to allow us to take a leap forward”.

Bonza chief commercial officer Carly Povey.

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“Airlines the world over often tweak their schedules and, for Bonza, this will be the first time we make changes to the frequency and routes so we wanted to be really transparent around the changes and why we feel they are really important to deliver on customer commitment,” she wrote.

Ms Povey told customers the airline had felt compelled to take out five routes where demand wasn’t sustainable at present.

Those routes are:

  • Sunshine Coast to Coffs Harbour;
  • Sunshine Coast to Port Macquarie;
  • Sunshine Coast to Tamworth;
  • Cairns to Mackay; and
  • Toowoomba Wellcamp to Whitsunday Coast.
Bonza is cutting back on services between the Sunshine Coast and Tamworth, due to lack of demand.

The changes will affect bookings on those routes from August 1 to October 28.

Ms Povey told Sunshine Coast News today that customer bookings on flights and routes that were being removed had been consistently low – including for peak school holiday periods.

“If we use Tamworth as an example, we are seeing 20 people on a flight from the Sunshine Coast versus 186 customers on a flight to Avalon,” she said.

“It’s important to note that for Tamworth, we have really healthy demand on flights from Melbourne to the country music capital. So that is where we’ll focus for now.”

Ms Povey did not rule out a return of those services in the future.

We’re continuously in discussion with airports around the country so the door remains open,” she said. “We will also always respond to where the demand is – like our 22 strong-performing routes where 186 seats are consistently full: like Sunshine Coast to Albury and Avalon.”

 

Sunshine Coast Airport’s then CEO Andrew Brodie enjoys ice cream on arrival at Avalon Airport. The Sunshine Coast-Avalon service is proving to be a strong market for Bonza.

Ms Povey apologised to those customers who have or will face a cancelled flight.

The Bonza support team will contact customers affected via SMS to receive a full refund or alternate flights.

A total of 22 routes of the original 27 remain. Ms Povey indicated some routes would be reduced by one flight per week.

Three strong-performing routes – Sunshine Coast to Albury and Melbourne (Avalon), plus Melbourne (Tullamarine) to Port Macquarie – will see an extra service added to the weekly schedule.

Ms Povey told customers the changes would ensure the aspects of the Bonza experience customers enjoyed could be maintained while “doubling down on consistently delivering reliability”.

“Australia has been waiting for a new airline and you’ve welcomed us with open arms and it is on us to deliver more consistently,” she said in the letter.

“By removing some flying from our schedule, and going where there is demand, we are achieving two things.

“Firstly, the changes will allow us to build in additional spare capacity within our current fleet of four aircraft, so we have a buffer when things don’t go to plan (and they will by virtue of being an airline).

“Secondly, by focusing on routes that are performing very well, we’re also taking decisive action by going where the demand is and in turn, setting Bonza up for the long haul –  because competition in the airline industry is a good thing and the demand for Bonza is clear.”

Passengers from Melbourne arrive at Sunshine Coast Airport on Bonza’s first flight from Tullamarine Airport.

Ms Povey confirmed the airline was still expanding by working to establish a third base to join its headquarters at Sunshine Coast Airport and its “second home” at Melbourne Tullamarine.

“With that will come new job opportunities and new routes to existing and new destinations,” she said.

“With that growth will come additional aircraft (and worry not, we’ll be calling on you to name them for us!), more home-grown products on our menu and improvements to the Fly Bonza app to make it better with each update or download.

“We are learning quickly and looking to the future.

“Our sole mission is maintaining a safe, sensible and sustainable airline that Aussies can enjoy and trust for years to come.”

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Ms Povey told Sunshine Coast News that Bonza looked forward to sharing details on the location of that third base “when the time is right”.

“What we can say is that the next phase will be about adding depth to our route map as opposed to breadth,” she said.

“That means more routes to our existing destinations as well as a few new ones.”

New planes were due for that base, she said, in the fourth quarter of this financial year, after the northern summer peak period had ended.

Bonza says it will continue to review its services, based on customer demand.

Ms Povey said that like all airlines, “reviewing the performance of our routes is an ongoing activity”.

She flagged possible changes in an exclusive interview with Sunshine Coast News last month, saying that Bonza had entered a “stabilising period” of reflection, learning lessons and owning mistakes. And like any successful business, customer demand would determine any changes to routes and flight numbers.

“We will go where the demand is,” Ms Povey said in the interview.

“Where there are routes that we can see there is significant demand, and we believe there is more we can do, then absolutely that would be something we’d be focused on.

“There may well be areas where there isn’t demand. With some routes we’re getting to the stage where we’re starting to see where demand is very positive versus where demand might justify some changes.

“It’s really important that we maximise those aircraft where customers want us to go. But will there be growth beyond that? Absolutely.”

The low-cost carrier has seen more than 330,000 bookings and over 1.25 million downloads of the airline’s app. Customers can only book through the app or travel agents.

The app also allows for on-demand in-flight food service, disposing of the need for trolleys in the middle aisle.

Its unique approach to flying saw the introduction of the world’s first gender neutral uniform and a “wear it your way” approach for cabin crew.

Bonza recently was voted in the top 25 low-cost airlines in the world by Airline Ratings.

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