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You Could Soon Be Flying One of These Start-Up Airlines

May 31, 2019
5 min read
You Could Soon Be Flying One of These Start-Up Airlines
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Are you excited for the first flights of the start-up airline Air Premia?

No, not Primera Air. That was one of many airlines that tried and failed to offer cheap seats across the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and the USA. Instead, the latest idea comes from an outfit called Air Premia. It wants to eventually do the same across the Pacific — well, the same except for the failing part.

Can Premia manage to avoid having more in common with Primera than a similar name? And what other new airlines from near and far can Americans expect to see at airports soon?

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Premia says it’s not exactly a low-cost airline, but rather more of a "hybrid" carrier — "a full-service airline without all features, such as business class and a frequent flyer program," according to Forbes.

Whatever the case —- low-cost, lower-cost or “hybrid” — start-up airlines ave struggled to apply the successful short-haul budget model to intercontinental markets. When they try, they all have a list of reasons why this time will be different. Premia does too, and maybe it will be correct — despite the precedent set by other failed start-ups, hybrid and otherwise.

Its prognosis for long-term success aside, Premia could (by 2021) give Los Angeles-area travelers lower-cost flights to Seoul.

With Premia as a backdrop, what other new airlines are likely to launch service within or to the US? At any moment, countless airline ideas are in the hopper. Air Gumbo, anyone?

But looking only at airlines that actually have airplanes on hand or on order — or at ones that involve well-known airline investors or executives — four of the most-likely possibilities are:

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  • Moxy,” or whatever it’ll eventually be called. This effort is led by serial airline entrepreneur David Neeleman, whose most prominent success story was JetBlue — though he's also been involved with several successful start-ups, including Canada's WestJet and Brazil's Azul. For his Moxy project, Neeleman has ordered 60 Airbus 220-300s and aims to launch service by 2021. The plan is to provide point-to-point flights between underserved, secondary US airports. Moxy will keep costs low by relying on self-service technology, but it aims to provide a higher level of service than (say) ultra-low-cost airlines like Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier. JetBlue itself, which launched back in 2000, remains the most recent US start-up that was a clear success. (Virgin America launched in 2007. It was popular but not generally profitable. Alaska Airlines purchased it in 2016, and the last Virgin-branded plane just disappeared in May — repainted in the colors of its new owner.)
  • XTRA,” or — again —whatever it’ll eventually be called. As with “Moxy,” that’s just a working project name. Unlike Neeleman, Andrew Levy isn’t a household name, even among frequent travelers. But within the airline industry, he is well known as a recent CFO of United and the former president of Allegiant. Allegiant doesn’t have JetBlue’s cult following, but the leisure-focused carrier is even more profitable than JetBlue. XTRA’s network plans sound similar to those of Moxy: connect underserved, secondary airports. Its product will probably be more basic. XTRA hasn’t settled on a fleet type, although Boeing 737-800s are a possibility.
  • Jetlines, an aspiring Canadian ultra-low-cost carrier, wants to fly A320s to (among other places) Sunbelt markets in the US. Other Canadian ULCCs have struggled to find their footing, meaning Jetlines will have to figure out how to succeed where others have stumbled. Jetlines says it will start selling tickets sometime in the third quarter of this year (July through September) and aims to launch service with two Airbus 320s by December. The company plans to start with Canadian routes first before expanding the US Sunbelt markets it covets.
  • Eastern Airlines: If at first you don’t succeed, try again. And again. There was the venerable Pan Am, followed by Pan Am II and Pan Am III. And there was Eastern Air Lines (two words in its case), followed by a second attempt using its name. Now a third attempt is afoot, rebranded from Dynamic International Airways (possibly best remembered by some for narrowly avoiding disaster after an engine fire at Fort Lauderdale’s airport). This Eastern sequel wants to use its 767s to fly from New York City all the way to Jinan, China, south of Beijing, with a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska.

Will any of these start-ups make a lasting impression?

History suggests the odds are stacked against them, but perhaps against some more than others. Moxy and XTRA, for example, at least broadly sound more like successful airlines that are already in service. And Neeleman's track record is not easily dismissed. But history also suggests that if they do get off the ground, travelers could expect some good deals, including perhaps from established airlines as they match the fares of the new entrants — for as long as they might last.

Featured image by This rendering depicts an Airbus jet in the colors of planned Canadian start-up carrier, Jetlines. (Photo courtesy of Jetlines)