New Aussie airline to offer unlimited flights

Membership-style carrier also aims to cut travel time by flying to less congested airports

An unusual airline is set to  take flight  in Australia later this year. Airly - as it is called - will allow travellers to take an unlimited number of flights for a set membership fee.

Airly  is one of a new breed of carriers shaking up the aviation industry. Started by Australian entrepreneurs, it will initially offer travel between Sydney and Melbourne - the world's fourth-busiest sector. It will also fly to Canberra.

Modelled on similar "all you can fly" airlines in the United States and Europe, Airly will fly to secondary "hassle-free" and less congested airports in Sydney and Melbourne. 

The aim is to reduce travel time by avoiding ground delays and long security and taxi queues. The airline says it could help to reduce the average commute between Sydney and Melbourne by two hours.

For a A$1,000 (S$1,002) joining fee, plus A$2,550 a month, travellers will be able to make unlimited trips on an eight-seater aircraft. 

A co-founder of Airly, Mr Alexander Robinson, said he believed the airline could fill a niche in the market because air travel had become "increasingly frustrating, commoditised and inefficient". He said he and his partners hoped to eventually expand the concept to Asia.

EVERYONE BENEFITS

We see Airly as positively disrupting the aviation industry. If, by improving the efficiencies of air travel with our market focus, Airly will help the industry improve overall, that is a win for travellers and the industry.

''MR ALEXANDER ROBINSON, a co-founder of Airly, saying he believed the airline could fill a niche in the market because air travel had become "increasingly frustrating, commoditised and inefficient".

 "We see Airly as positively disrupting the aviation industry," he told the Dynamic Business website.

"If, by improving the efficiencies of air travel with our market focus, Airly will help the industry improve overall, that is a win for travellers and the industry… In the longer term, we see potential markets in New Zealand and Asia, where the same problem exists."

Expected to launch with three King Air 350 turboprop planes and 54 flights a week, the airline plans to expand to the Gold Coast, Adelaide and other secondary airports in Brisbane and Melbourne. 

The new airline has been likened to "disruptive" businesses such as Uber and Airbnb and follows the recent launches of other membership airlines around the world. 

One of them is  Surf Air which was launched in California in 2013 and has continued to expand its membership, with several routes added last year. The airline flies to nine destinations, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs,  and plans to add more.

Similar airlines include Rise, in Texas, and Wheels Up, a charter- style membership airline in the US. 

In Europe, a membership airline named Take Air has begun offering flights between Antwerp and Zurich, with more routes scheduled to be added.

Analysts said Airly was a welcome addition to Australia's busy aviation sector  and could attract customers among "ultra-frequent" travellers. But most said the airline is unlikely to pose a threat to the four main domestic carriers - Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger.

An expert on the travel industry, Dr David Beirman, from the University of Technology Sydney, said Airly  was likely to attract corporate travellers who were more concerned about convenience than price. He said it would particularly suit the growing number of people who work close to Bankstown airport in Sydney's west, where Airly is due to operate.

"I think it could succeed - there is room in the market in Australia for a small player to develop a niche," he told The Straits Times.

"They're not trying to be like Virgin or Qantas - they are starting modest. It would be attractive for businesses located within about 10km of the airport."

Dr Beirman said the airline - or a similar model - could potentially work on busy corporate routes in Asia such as short-haul flights between Singapore and Malaysia. "It is small but it could grow," he said.

Associate Professor David Hodgkinson, from the  University of Western Australia, said the membership-style airline effectively adds a new class of travel for well- off passengers. 

"It offers yet another 'class'  of air travel, albeit on fairly straightforward, but sparsely populated and nicely kitted-out aircraft," he wrote on The Conversation website.

"In passenger terms, air travel has always been stratified (as it were). Airly - and developments like it around the world - is simply another iteration of this stratification."

But others are sceptical about the ability of a small player such as Airly to compete with the mainstream airlines.

Professor Phil Lewis, from Canberra University, said Airly would struggle as  large airlines offer frequent flier programmes, business lounges and connecting flights, and can ensure "you can jump on a scheduled plane from Sydney to Melbourne every hour or half an hour". In addition, he noted, Airly's success could prompt the larger airlines to offer similar services.

"The thing with Uber and Airbnb was, the current services were unsatisfactory and they were very expensive and somebody found a way of offering almost the same service, in fact a better service, but cheaper," he told The New Daily website.

"As soon as Qantas and Virgin offer cheap fares, that's going to be incredibly difficult indeed. I wish (it) well… but I would be very surprised if it makes a success of it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'New Aussie airline to offer unlimited flights'. Print Edition | Subscribe