2020 was the year of coronavirus, and, understandably, an absolutely horrible year for airlines. It was also the year of airlines retiring many, if not all of their 747s, as an effort to cut the cost of older, bulkier gas guzzlers.
Although several other airlines retired their 747s before 2020, Qantas, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic are just some of the airlines that retired some or all of their fleet of the “Queen of the Skies” last year.
Some 747s are sold for scrap, and two of British Airways’ are going to live “new lives” in the U.K. However most are “put out to pasture,” with the hope that another airline might want to buy them. Most retired planes are placed in storage areas in dryer parts of the world, such as Pinal Airpark and Kingman Municipal Airport in Arizona and Mojave Air & Space Port, and the Southern California Logistics Airport in California.
There are 121 retired 747 passenger jets and 23 retired 747 freighters available on the aftermarket. As it turns out, a potential up-and-coming U.S.-based low-cost carrier is interested in buying some of them.
Avatar Airlines started as Family Airlines in the 1990s. The plan was to offer low-cost flights (think $249 from L.A. or San Francisco to Honolulu, or between NYC and L.A.), similar to Peoples’ Express. Although its Las Vegas-based chief executive, Barry Michaels, negotiated to lease and/or purchase some retired 747s, it never quite got off the ground (you see what I did there?), as the FAA stopped processing the airline’s application to begin service due to lawsuits and judgments against Michaels.
Michaels tried again in 2008 (same name, same business plan) and was again denied. He filed once more in 2010, this time under the name Avatar Airlines, but the application didn’t proceed. In 2014, now relocated to Boca Raton, he tried again, and, once again, wasn’t able to start up his fledgling airline.
Fast forward to now and, hello, Avatar Airlines is trying again. Their plan has been updated to be something of a hybrid, with a Boeing 747 fleet and low-cost fares, as well as an added focus on long haul cargo transportation.
“Avatar is going in a whole different direction than the entire industry. We’re not mad and we’re certainly not crazy,” is how chief legal officer Michael Zapin explained the airline during a recent webinar for potential investors.
How “not crazy” are they?
Well, their prices will be cheap – think $19 one way for short flights (without all the extra nickel-and-diming for bags, seat selection, WiFi, etc. – that would all be included in the cost), and “no fare over $99 when purchased 30 or more days in advance” (as per their website). To make up for their cheap prices, they plan on packing in 581 seats into those retired 747-400s they want to buy from other airlines (that’s about 100 seats more than other airlines had in those planes). They also plan to turn their planes into
walking flying billboards.
“Anything that can be seen or touched on the aircraft will be made available for sale to a third-party advertiser,” is mentioned in avatarairlines.com. “Management even envisions patrons using the restroom and being greeted by a named brand bathroom tissue company when they look inside the lid of the lavatory bowl,” the company wrote in a November 2019 regulatory filing.
Right now, they’re trying to get investors so they can raise initial capital of $5 million to $15 million. With that, he’d like to purchase four 747s to start. Because so many 747s have been recently retired, and demand for them is so low, they’re hoping to strike a good deal (i.e., Thai Airways, which is currently going through a bankruptcy, is currently selling ten 747s. Avatar would be willing to offer an exchange of equity for the 747s).
Airline insiders don’t seem to have high hopes for Avatar Airlines – they raise concerns about 747s costing too much to operate. It’s also been pointed out that Spirit Airlines tried to sell entire liveries to advertisers at one point, and the idea didn’t work out.
But for now, those in charge of what could be Avatar Airlines (which still hasn’t been approved by the FAA) are doing their best to get investors and hopefully launch in early 2022.
Time will tell.
I’m sure some people would be very happy if some of those 747s were back in the air, though.
Feature Photo: Aeroprints/Wikipedia
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary