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Bonza hires ex-Virgin exec to lead CASA negotiations

written by Adam Thorn | May 3, 2022

An artist’s impression of a 737 MAX in Bonza livery.

Bonza has hired Virgin Australia’s former GM of operations planning to lead its negotiations with CASA.

Michael Young has more than 35 years of aviation experience, including senior roles at Jetstar Japan, SaudiGulf Airlines and most recently as the CEO of Tasman Cargo.

It follows the exit of former COO Peter McNally in March and comes as the business plans to launch mid-year, which will require crucial clearance from the safety regulator.

Bonza said Young’s remit would also include flight and cabin crew, engineering, ground services and on-time performance.

He’ll also be helping lead the recruitment of 200 cabin crew and pilots, ready for launch.

The appointment of a big hitter will be seen as a coup given his six years in a similar position at Virgin and Tiger.

In February, CEO Tim Jordan told the Australian Aviation podcast the carrier would likely begin operations in mid-2022.

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Jordan significantly added that while it was a “possibility” it could start flying late in the second quarter, its progress would depend on how quickly it can pass regulatory requirements with CASA.

Bonza’s last COO, who was also its co-founder, left weeks after the airline revealed the details of its initial network offering of 25 routes to 16 destinations, including Cairns, Mildura, Newcastle and Whitsunday Coast.

McNally, a previous senior operational manager for Virgin Blue and former Swissport vice-president of airports and commercial, was formally appointed as Bonza’s COO in October.

McNally was also previously COO of Airnorth in Darwin, chief advisor for operations for Indian LCC IndiGo, and earlier, vice-president for network operations at Qatar Airways.

A Bonza spokesperson confirmed to the Financial Review that McNally had “parted ways” with the upcoming airline.

“He leaves behind a very capable team who have been, and will continue to be, leading our regulatory application process,” the spokesperson said.

The airline, backed by US private investment firm 777 Partners, has long claimed to embrace a “point-to-point” model for leisure travellers, servicing routes ignored by incumbent rivals at low frequency, in a business model similar to other low-cost carriers across the US and Europe.

The airline’s strategy, though, has been questioned by other Australian airlines.

In November, Rex deputy chairman John Sharp questioned which routes Bonza could introduce that would both be presently unserved by Qantas, Rex or Virgin, and have adequate demand to sustain a new market entrant.

“That’s a mystery to us … what are those markets? If they are worth servicing, Qantas, Virgin or Rex would be in there doing it,” Sharp said.

Later, in December, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce warned that the airline will “defend our turf” against new entrant Bonza, and similarly cast doubt on whether there are any remaining domestic or regional leisure routes that remain untouched by Qantas.

“We’ve started nearly 50 new domestic routes [since 2020]. So, I would have thought we have most of them covered, but maybe we don’t?” said Joyce.

“So that’s great if they find a unique value proposition that they can make money on. Fantastic, fill your boots up on it, and shame on us if we’ve missed it.”

Despite criticisms, Bonza CEO Tim Jordan has remained confident that Bonza will deliver on its promise to connect direct regional and leisure destinations for far cheaper than its competitors.

“The rest of the world gives us that confidence,” Jordan told Australian Aviation.

“We’re not trying to do anything particularly smart and clever, or unique. We’re actually just trying to replicate [a model that] has already been successfully executed elsewhere in the world.

“So that gives us that confidence.”

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