Australian low-cost carrier Bonza has hopes for a swift resolution to issues involving a pair of wet-leased Boeing 737s that the airline was relying on to launch a new base.
The Sunshine Coast-based airline, which began operations in January 2023, hopes to receive the appropriate regulatory approvals to operate the pair of wet-leased Boeing 737-MAX 8s in the coming days. The aircraft are being provided by Canadian leisure carrier Flair Airlines. Both Bonza and Flair share the same parent company in the form of Miami-based 777 Partners.
Bonza was relying on the pair of Canadian registered 737s to launch a new operations base at Gold Coast Coolangatta Airport (OOL) in time for the busy summer peak travel season.
However, due to undisclosed delays in gaining regulatory approvals from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the aircraft are yet to join the Bonza fleet. This has led to travel disruption and flight cancellations for thousands of Bonza passengers who had booked to fly from the new hub.
The airline has been caught up in a torrent of adverse publicity over the delayed opening of its third base as a result of these widespread cancellations. As a previously untried base airport, operations at OOL had been deliberately timed to coincide with the peak local summer school holiday period to maximize load factors. They were also timed to capitalize on the popularity of the Gold Coast as a holiday destination for Australians.
“Our Gold Coast base is due to be operated by our partner Flair in the short term,” said Bonza CEO Tim Jordan. “This arrangement brings with it a separate regulatory approval process with CASA. That process is progressing but is not yet complete. We’ve had to make the regrettable decision to defer flights to/from Gold Coast to Darwin (DRW), Bundaberg (BDB), Melbourne-Avalon (AVV), Cairns (CNS), Proserpine (PPP) and Mildura (MQL).
The latest news on the issue from Bonza is that talks with CASA have been continuing and that the airline hopes CASA will issue the necessary approvals to allow it to commence operations with the Canadian registered 737s the week commencing December 18, 2023 – just in time for the great Australian Christmas getaway.
One of the Flair aircraft (registered C-FLKC) has already been ferried from Canada to Australia and is sitting at Gold Coast Airport ready to begin operations as soon as it is approved to do so. The second aircraft (C-FLHI) was due to ferry to Australia in early December 2023, but for now, it remains in service with Flair in Canada until the CASA approvals come through.
Bonza claims that the process of ferrying the second aircraft and deploying it into service in Australia is only expected to take a matter of days once the approvals have been obtained.
Bonza started selling tickets on twelve new routes from Gold Coast Coolangatta Airport earlier in 2023. Due to the issues surrounding the wet leases, it has since been forced to suspend some of the routes temporarily and cut frequencies on others.
The company has also been relying on a wet-leased Boeing 737 soured from Nauru Airlines to provide services on some of these new routes, including those from Gold Coast to Townsville (TNS), Rockhampton (ROK), and Launceston (LST).