One has to wonder what direction the low-cost industry is going in following the forging of two unusual partnerships between low-cost carriers and tiny regional operators.
Thailand’s SGA Airlines from Sunday will operate Cessna 208Bs for Nok Air on flights from Chang Mai in northern Thailand to Chang Rai, Pai and Phrae. The 12-seat single-engine aircraft have been painted in Nok’s livery as part of the co-branding or feeder deal.
Massachusetts-based Cape Air earlier this week began carrying JetBlue’s code on its Cessna 402 flights from Boston to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Provincetown. This is a traditional codeshare deal, in which JetBlue sells some but not all seats on nine-seat twin-engine aircraft painted in Cape Air’s livery.
Low-cost carriers traditionally have shied away from feeder contacts, codeshare deals and interlines because they add too much cost. Even Nok had to recently cancel its codeshare with part-owner Thai Airways because implementation was too complicated.
Codeshare deals may become more common in the low-cost arena as low-cost carriers look to compete more with legacy operators and create global networks. For example, JetBlue also has forged a tie-up with Aer Lingus. But it’s lunacy to think JetBlue and Nok Air may be starting a trend with their deals with Cape Air and SGA.
Aircraft with less than 13 seats are not exactly low-cost material and some passengers may not react well to flying in such small planes. This category of aircraft often do not have a cockpit doors, generally are un-pressurised, never have flight attendants and toilets and sometimes are flown with just one pilot. They can only operate at low altitudes, where heavy turbulence is more likely to be encountered.
Nok, in announcing its deal with SGA, ensures passengers the SGA aircraft and its pilots “have thoroughly been checked” by its head of flight operations. The aircraft have also been checked by maintenance authorities at Thai Airways, Nok adds. SGA, which stands for Siam General Aviation, hopes to later operate Cessnas or potentially larger regional aircraft for Nok from additional bases in other parts of Thailand.
Both Nok and JetBlue point out small Cessnas, where every seat is by the window, give passengers great panoramic views. But if passengers really want a panoramic experience, should they be booking with their local general aviation operator or with one of their country’s largest low-cost airlines?