Argentinian start-up airline ‘Flybondi’ – bondi being the Argentine word for ‘bus’ – is hoping to take to the skies before the end of next year. The carrier is awaiting a government decision, where the start-up will then have six months to start routes.
The airline is the brainchild of Julian Cook, whose airline experience includes founding Flybaboo back in 2003, and Gaston Parisier of BigBox, back in 2008. The project may have been shelved eight years ago, but now is the time to start the low-cost carrier. Long-haul luxury buses are still popular within the country, but those prices are rising.
Argentina are in a new political era that could be the makings of aviation within the country. Cristina Fernàndez de Kirchner’s reign as President came to an end little under a year ago, with Mauricio Macri replacing her. Macri has already made waves by removing the maximum price for air fares, but kept the minimum pricing. The pricing initiative has been in place since 2002, in order to stabilise the aviation industry following the 2001 economic crisis. The Argentinian government has pledged to double the number of flights in the domestic market during Mauricio Macri’s term.
There are a few issues facing the airline. Aviation within Argentina is relatively close to a monopoly, given that flag carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas operates 75 percent of the market. Air travel in Argentina is still very costly, ranking as the 26th most expensive country in the world for flying. Last February, the Argentine government gave Aerolíneas permission to increase the cost of domestic flights between 13 and 30 percent.
As is the norm with a low-cost carrier, Flybondi wish to avoid the major airport in Buenos Aires, Aeroparque. CEO Julian Cook believes that if the fares are reasonable enough, travellers won’t mind travelling a bit further. The likes of Ryanair and easyJet have proved that it is possible. The initial plan for the carrier is to fly domestic routes, to Iguazú, Córdoba, Mendoza, Bariloche, Salta, Neuquén, Tucumán, Ushuaia, El Calafate, Comodoro Rivadavia, Resistencia and Río Gallegos.
The general consensus within the aviation industry is that affordable travel is what the country needs. Speaking earlier this year, COPA CEO Pedro Heilbron said: “The aviation sector is very important for the economic growth of Argentina. The country lost an opportunity (due to Kirchnerism) but can now recover these years with a larger expansion.”
It is believed that many companies are already interested in flying to and from Argentina. It has been reported that Ryanair are looking seriously into tapping this market in 2017. With much cheaper airfares, the growing population of Argentina could finally take to the skies.
The airline already has backing from some big names in the industry. Initial investors include Ryanair board member and ex-COO Michael Cawley, ex-Air Canada CEO Montie Brewer and British Airways CityFlyer Express founder/ex-chairman Robert Wright alongside Argentinian investors.
The population of Buenos Aires is predicted to reach 17 million in 2030, with a third of the population living in or near the city. Argentinians are one of Latin America’s largest middle classes, yet high prices for air travel hinders their opportunities to fly. In 2015, only three out of every ten Argentinians boarded a flight. Since 1990, the number of airline passengers in Argentina has only grown by 4 percent a year. On average, Argentinians pay $12.37 per 100km of air travel, which is roughly three times as much as the average Brazilian pays.
Flybondi fully believe in their product given their ambitious short-term future plans: “Flybondi plans to reach 30 aircraft in five years and transport over 8 million passengers on domestic and regional flights.”
The website for the start-up carrier states that they believe Argentinians deserve a chance to fly. “Today only 1 out of every 10 Argentines fly by plane. In 5 years we want half of our country in the air.”