Bonza has again delayed the launch of its service between the Gold Coast and Darwin from 2 January to 19 March 2024.
CEO Tim Jordan said the firm made the “difficult decision” – days before it was due to start – because beginning operations next month would put a “strain on our current capacity”.
The latest announcement is the second pushback after the service was initially due to start on 1 December 2023.
It followed a surprise delay in Bonza receiving clearance from CASA for its sister carrier, Flair, to operate the flights on a wet lease agreement. However, the safety watchdog finally gave Bonza the go-ahead on 19 December, leading to hopes the flights would depart on the revised timetable.
“We want to be certain that we can provide a service that is reliable and to a standard that we’re proud of,” Jordan said.
“We owe it to our customers and our Bonza legends to learn from our previous missteps by putting measures in place so that we can deliver reliable, low-cost air travel.”
The service will eventually deliver two return services between the Gold Coast and Darwin per week. Affected customers are being advised that they will automatically be granted refunds.
Bonza’s services to the NT have been aided by the Fyles government’s Territory Aviation Attraction Scheme, which offers airlines financial incentives to fly to the NT.
The state’s acting tourism minister, Chansey Paech, said the government looked forward to the commencement of the route.
“While this will be disappointing news for travellers, our government respects this commercial decision by Bonza to defer the route from Darwin to the Gold Coast,” he said.
A wet lease agreement means an airline effectively rents both an aircraft and its crew from another carrier to fly services. It differs from a dry lease agreement, where only the aircraft is used, and its own pilots and cabin crew operate the service.
Bonza’s deal with Canadian budget airline Flair – which is also owned by parent company 777 Partners – is a reciprocal arrangement that will eventually see Bonza send its planes and crews to service Flair routes when it has a large enough fleet of its own.
The business hopes the deal will mean it can service 14 routes from its third base in south-east Queensland, with an effective fleet of six aircraft.
In 2023, airlines have been increasingly pursuing wet and dry lease agreements, given a shortage of new aircraft caused by COVID-created supply chain issues.
Qantas, for example, earlier this year revealed codeshare partner Finnair would operate selected A330 flights from Sydney to Singapore and all flights between Sydney and Bangkok.