The AvGeek blogosphere is awash in stories of new startup airlines lately, if by “awash” you mean “there are two new startup airlines in the AvGeek blogosphere right now.” One sounds incredibly promising, while the other looks like a whole lot of empty promises. We’ll start with the good (bad name notwithstanding): Moxy Airlines, proposed by JetBlue founder and aviation guru David Neeleman. The basic plan is to fly C-Series aircraft between secondary airports for less than major carriers charge. There’s more to it than that, but not by much: it’s a beautifully simple proposal that could present another compelling option in a market dominated by airlines that are increasingly indistinguishable from one another. AURA, on the other hand, is founded by a guy you’ve never heard of, and its plan is to fly between a few cities in 2019, with more cities to come in 2020. On the surface, AURA seems way more thought-out than Moxy, having already announced its initial routes as well as the planned expansion, pricing on all routes, cabin design, seat maps, menus, etc. However, after spending more than thirty seconds poking around AURA’s slick new website, it becomes very clear that this airline is basically the Fyre Festival with wings (AKA “all sashimi and no sizzle” (because they advertise a menu chock full of sashimi, get it?)).
While Moxy is more of a general idea at this point (although I’m sure Neeleman is drumming up investors behind the scenes), AURA already wants customers to give them money, in the form of a $100 membership fee that locks in a rate of $100 per month once AURA actually starts flying. See, this is a good deal, because AURA’s membership fee will be $250 per month for anyone who didn’t get in on the ground floor. Imagine how dumb you’re going to feel when AURA launches and you’re stuck paying a $250 per month membership fee when you could have given a sketchy company $100 just days after they launched and years before they provide any service!
AURA’s promotional renderings do look very cool, but the problem is that anyone proficient in design software can make the inside of a plane look cool. Actually making all that stuff out of real materials is a different story, and given how long any product that goes into a commercial airplane takes to engineer, it seems ludicrous that AURA would claim that their first flights will be in 2019.
Also, let’s look at this list of shit AURA is proposing that has never been used on a commercial aircraft before (except maybe in the new Emirates first class suite):
Free virtual reality headsets
A five-course meal prepared on board
OLED augmented-reality window displays
An OLED panel spanning the entire length of the ceiling that projects images of flames for some fucking reason
They promote a partnership with an interior design company called Yasava, who designed this interior for private jets but doesn’t say anything about whether it can even be manufactured. Design is great and all, but there’s a wide gulf between sketching out how something will look and actually making it work. (For one example among many, remember that design firm PriestmanGoode wasn’t in charge of manufacturing United’s Polaris seats — that job went to Zodiac, whose delays contributed to the slow rollout of Polaris. It should be noted that Yasava’s CEO is also the head of design for AURA’s parent company.
The whole Fyre Festival comparison starts to make sense when you realize that every aspect of AURA has been thought out except the operational realities that are necessary to launch an outfit like this (oh, and also that the CEO is a 21 year-old with a business degree). Talk about putting the cart before the horse — it doesn’t much matter what types of sushi you offer when you’re going back and forth with the FAA about what type of seatbelt these seats require (something that will probably come up at some point, given that the seats in the renderings don’t have any belts at all) or how fire-resistant your giant flaming OLED panels are.
I hate shit like this. I would love this plane if it were real, but it isn’t, and all this design effort is purely in the service of ginning up interest and a bunch of $100 subscriptions from the same people that rented luxury yurts because Ja Rule promised them a kickass festival. The fact that articles like this one talk about AURA as if the fleet is ready to fly only adds to the deception. (Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: “To create AURA, ZED Aerospace collaborated with Swiss interior design firm YASAVA Solutions to formulate a flight experience like no other, outfitting a fleet of CRJ700 Bombardier aircraft with a suite of high-tech features”) If AURA actually does fly in two years, maybe I’ll kick myself for not getting in earlier, but I’m not holding my breath.
As for Moxy, aside from the name, I couldn’t be more excited. In fact, there’s a lot of stupid branding I’d put up with in order to fly a CS300 between Oakland and Gary, IN. The CS300 looks like an amazing plane (from what I’ve seen in trip reports so far on Swiss and Air Baltic), and as an added bonus, it’s a real airplane and not a graphic rendering. Oakland is a way more convenient airport for me than SFO, and it also has a solid lounge option (the Escape Lounge, open to Amex Platinum customers).
Here’s what it really comes down to, though: innovating the very top of the market, like what AURA is trying to do, has very little impact on most passengers. AURA is trying to be a boutique offering for a tiny slice of the overall flying public, so it’s difficult to say that they’re actually revolutionizing air travel. Flying a very expensive plane for very rich customers paying very expensive fares is great for press; not so much for effecting lasting change in the industry.
On the other hand, airlines like Jet Blue brought live TV and better legroom to secondary airports at very low prices, and then they introduced an excellent first class product on long flights at a fraction of the cost of the legacies. The introduction of Mint not only spurred other airlines to up their transcon game, it also had a lasting effect bringing prices for business-class transcons well under $1000 on a routine basis. This is what I hope Moxy can accomplish — offering a state of the art aircraft and improved passenger experience options and prices at or below the going rate from the big carriers. It may not be as flashy as an OLED screen or onboard sashimi bar, but I still can’t wait to fly Moxy. Just please pick a different name.
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