FTE APEX Virtual Expo 2021: Ava, EGO, PLAY and Pop on “huge opportunity” for start-up airlines to enter market

Matteo Bonecchi, CEO EGO Airways; (Nino) Navdip Singh Judge, Chief Executive and Founder, Pop; Aaron Heslehurst, News Anchor & Presenter, BBC World News; Birgir Jonsson, CEO PLAY; and Olivier Arrindell, CEO Ava Airways.

FTE APEX Virtual Expo’s New Airlines C-Suite Summit, moderated by Aaron Heslehurst, News Anchor & Presenter, BBC World News, featured the CEOs of four start-up airlines: Olivier Arrindell, CEO Ava Airways; Matteo Bonecchi, CEO EGO Airways; Birgir Jonsson, CEO PLAY; and (Nino) Navdip Singh Judge, Chief Executive and Founder, Pop.

flypop is a UK-based start-up that will provide direct flights between the UK and second cities in South Asia, starting with India. It aims to serve the South Asian diaspora in the UK, Europe and North America. The airline’s planned launch is on 1 October 2021, depending on vaccine rollout. “In a crisis, you always have opportunity,” said (Nino) Navdip Singh Judge, Chief Executive and Founder, Pop. “The opportunity now is to start afresh.”
Pop is targeting secondary airports. “In fact, the diaspora doesn’t particularly want to go through Delhi and Mumbai. Second cities are what it’s all going to be about. Negotiating during a pandemic, the deals you can get are phenomenal. They want us to bring our widebody in with 412 international passengers.”
He sees a gap in the market and an opportunity to stimulate demand. “The huge Middle East carriers fly mostly into Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore, so by flying into the second cities we’re not really taking on anybody big. The non-stop USP is going to be really important. We’re starting with fares of £99 one way, so we’re a seriously low-cost airline.”

Ava Airways is a Dominican Republic airline venture, established to cater for demand between its hub at Santo Domingo and Caribbean, Latin American, North American, European, and later, African destinations. Its inaugural flight is planned for Q2-Q3 2022. “We are simply waiting on people to get over the fear factor of COVID-19 and for every country in our inaugural destination plan to fully open and have a common approach to their travel requirements, such as COVID-19 testing and vaccination,” said Olivier Arrindell, CEO Ava Airways. “We are starting an airline in Latin America and the Caribbean to challenge the status quo and give travellers a proper service and product for the development of trade and commerce.”
He commented on restrictions with visa requirements. “It’s very difficult for someone from Barbados to visit Cuba if they have to make a stop in the US. In Europe, by contrast, there is a single market. So, I decided to start an airline in the Dominican Republic, where we can properly connect throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Arrindell added: “Aviation is about what you can do bilaterally. If you look at Latin America and the Caribbean, every single country is an independent state that has a bilateral agreement with each other. From Ava Airways’ point of view, we have little bilateral competition.”

Icelandic start-up PLAY sees the current COVID-19 pandemic as a great opportunity to enter the market with a new set-up and approach. Its CEO Birgir Jonsson was formerly Deputy CEO of WOW. “I personally think this is one of the most positive and opportunistic moments in recent history to start an airline,” he said. “The huge opportunity is to start afresh and be able to build your own legacy.”
PLAY’s inaugural flight is on 24 June to London Stansted. “We will have a European point-to-point network using three A321neos until the first half of next year, when we will increase our fleet and start a US operation,” Jonsson explained. “Our target is the US East Coast and Canada, but very much looking at secondary airports. Our strength is our flexibility – it’s going to be difficult to try to connect people from New York to London via Reykjavik, but you can do it through secondary airports, so that’s a very big part of our model.”

Italian start-up EGO Airways was launched right before the pandemic. “We were unlucky to set up the airline during the first wave, so we had all the time to adjust to the new situation,” said Matteo Bonecchi, CEO EGO Airways. “For sure, there is no shortage of pilots or flight attendants – that’s a help. The pandemic is an opportunity from both the cost side and the market side.”
EGO will serve domestic Italian routes to secondary airports from its base at Milan Malpensa, using the Embraer 190. “Our model is a little bit different – we give the possibility to fully customise the flight experience,” Bonecchi explained.
He added that EGO has a very good relationship with its airport partners. “We have an opportunity to customise the experience with the airports. We have a point-to-point market and a feeder product, working with the big boys in and out of Malpensa. There is strong demand from point-to-point secondary airports, connecting these cities with Malpensa.”

Airlines and airports can register for a free access-all-areas pass, including the virtual exhibition hall, conference sessions, and networking areas.

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