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Airly co-Founder, Alexander Robinson

The disruptive trend is flying: Start-up Airly shaking up the commute between Sydney and Melbourne

Sydney-Melbourne; it’s the world’s third busiest flight route by passenger volume – so busy in fact that it wouldn’t be unusual to see the occasional, jumbo aircraft operate the brief 55 minute journey. Combine these facts with three aviation enthusiasts who have an interest in disruptive innovation and technology and we have revolutionary new service that turns the traditional airline business model completely on its head. Airly, co-founded by Alexander Robinson, Luke Hampshire and Ivan Vysotskiy introduces to Australia an entirely new style of air travel for the frequent flyer.  

‘A more painstaking process in practice’

Most of us would concede that the journey between Australia’s two largest cities is a more painstaking process in practice than theory suggests. Existing pricing models mean last-minute travellers pay top dollar for their fares before embarking on the [let’s be honest] 4-hour trip when airport security, baggage collection and notoriously long city transfers are added to the mix. The Airly co-Founders believe they have found the solution in a concept that allows travellers to pay a set monthly fee of $2550 for unlimited flights between the smaller, hassle-free airports of Bankstown in Sydney and Melbourne Essendon.

Alexander said “the idea is really credited to Surf Air, the Californian membership-based airline that started membership-based All-You-Can-Fly in 2013.  We’ve watched them closely, both from an interest and then an entrepreneurial perspective.”

Airly currently has three 8-seater Beechcraft King Air 350s making their way to Australian shores in preparation for Airly’s initial 54-flight-per-week service between Melbourne and Sydney, anticipated to commence in March. All three aircraft utilised by Airly will be subject to leasing arrangements which include complete crew, maintenance and insurance.

The Beechcraft King Air 350
The Beechcraft King Air 350

Commenting on the choice of route, Alexander said that distances and existing infrastructure don’t facilitate ground transport and commercial air travel is over capacity.

“We see a niche opportunity using smaller airports and a differentiated service to deliver something invaluable back to frequent travellers: time,” said Alexander. Airly projects that the complete journey time between Sydney and Melbourne will be reduced to 2 hours.

“Aviation has become increasingly frustrating, commoditised, and inefficient in many areas. Airly is looking to improve this aspect of the industry and deliver efficiencies back to members.”

‘A careful balancing act’

With Airly’s target member being the “ultra- frequent traveller” according to Alexander, there’s a careful balancing act to play between ensuring adequate availability of flights and the maintenance of a healthy revenue stream for the business. Alexander says that customer experience, availability of seats, flexibility of travel and frequency of flights is critical to Airly’s success.

“We have members joining now, and when we reach a certain number that balances service availability, member experience and profitable business, we will launch scheduled services,” said Alexander.

‘Fast-emerging, ultra-frequent travellers’

A balancing act it may be with no room for error, but the Airly team have every reason to be optimistic about their new venture as membership-based air travel is already proving increasingly popular across the USA and Europe. After launching in 2013, California’s Surf Air expanded its number of destinations last year after it experienced a 40 per cent increase in its exclusive membership. Other competitors such as Rise and Wheels Up have since entered the US market while Europe saw the launch of Belgium’s Take Air in early 2015.

So who are these fast-emerging, ‘ultra-frequent travellers’ proving this business model a success?

Alexander said “typically managers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, executives, consultants, professionals and creatives. Members may fly regularly at their own expense, or under a corporate membership; we’re seeing a lot of interest from companies looking for a more efficient means of travel for their frequent travelling employees.

“Members are primarily attracted to Airly based on the two-hours per round trip time saving they will gain.”

While recognising that the delivery of excellent operations on their launch routes currently remains top priority, the team have every intention to ride the wave of this growing trend for ‘all-you-can-fly’ services. According to Alexander, the team have identified as many as 15 routes within Australia that are currently marred by congestion, density, frequency and over-capacity.

“In the longer term, we see potential markets in New Zealand and Asia, where the same problem exists,” said Alexander.

‘Positively disrupting the aviation industry’

As with other disruptive and innovative companies, the development of Airly has not been without challenges.

“As an industry, aviation is volatile, has high costs, customers have various options, there are entrenched competitors and there are significant barriers to entry,” said Alexander.

“We are learning from the aviation industry as well as best practices from other industries.”

Will Airly bring the shake-up to the airline industry that people might be anticipating? Alexander says Airly is a complementary service to the aviation industry by targeting a niche market and delivering a service that large airlines are unable to scale down to offer.

“We see Airly as positively disrupting the aviation industry,” he said.

“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.”

Airly co-Founders from left: Ivan Vysotskiy, Alexander Robinson and Luke Hampshire
Airly co-Founders from left: Ivan Vysotskiy, Alexander Robinson and Luke Hampshire

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Daniel Jacobs

Daniel Jacobs

Daniel Jacobs was editor of Dynamic Business.

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