Setting up a new low-cost airline in such fraught times for the aviation industry might seem like a precarious venture but one Italian carrier has ambitious plans, as Colette Doyle discovers when she catches up with Ego Airways CEO Matteo Bonecchi (pictured above).

    This piece first appeared in the May/June issue of Aircraft Cabin Management, you can read the full magazine here. 

    With other low-cost, regional airlines such as Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizzair already operating in Italy, how does a newcomer like Ego Airways propose to successfully compete in this market space? 

    Ego Airways targets unserved routes in Italy. Interestingly, low-cost companies stay ahead of market leaders because consumer behaviour works in our favour. If a business gets a customer to buy its products or services purely on the basis of cost, we will all lose out if our rival offers a lower price. 

    At Ego, we believe the customer should chose their own experience at the best price. These are unique times but I like to be bold, as I was when pitching for investors during an unprecedented period for the aviation industry. Perhaps we might even consider a low-cost carriers’ alliance – a roundtable where we can identify our strengths and discuss how to tackle challenges. 

    As an Italian airline, passengers will no doubt expect a stylish on-board look; can you talk us through the thought process behind the cabin interiors and crew uniform? 

    The word ‘ego’ comes from Latin and means ‘me’, which refers to one’s own personality and the awareness of being who we are. Ego Airways was born with the vision of highlighting the individual’s uniqueness. We place the guest at the core of the travel experience and are committed to satisfying everyone’s needs in the most safe and effective way.

    I wanted to design a cabin that had fashion and furniture designers involved, coming from a very different angle. When Covid-19 hit, my team andI had to think quickly and reconsider things. Fashion talks and helps us to express our passion for beauty; it is also a snapshot of what is happening in the world at a particular time. 

    I wanted that concept to resonate in our cabin, so I invited a group of designers to look at our lease fleet and dress it up. We partnered with Beppe Spadacini, who has created fabrics for clients including Versace. His materials will be adorning our seats. Our crew uniform has been designed by Andrès Romo from the EGV Group – it makes me happy to see the explosion of colour and how well the different shades complement each other. 

    Can you explain the rationale behind choosing Forlì in Emilia-Romagna and Fontanarossa in Catania, Sicily as your hubs for the airline? 

    All the cities we fly to are currently unserved by other airlines. We have worked with each regional government and the various airport hubs to make sure we can offer a sustainable network. Connecting the centre of the country with the south of the peninsula is always a winning combination.

    Emilia-Romagna is well known as the foodie capital of Italy; is this something that has influenced your inflight catering offering? 

    Italy has a foodie capital in each region; as Italians, food is always on our mind. As well as food production, Emilia-Romagna is well known also for its automotive, motorcycle and ceramics industries, which have developed in the form of large and successful industrial districts spread over the entire region. 

    The manufacturing sector dominates the regional economy, but a service sector is slowly developing alongside. In comparison with other regions, Emilia-Romagna exhibits a higher rate of service innovation.

     

    The airline industry is one of the sectors most adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; what measures is Ego Airways putting in place to reassure customers that flying is still safe? 

    Ego Airways works closely with airports and tourism authorities to create travel corridors that improve the already fraught customer journey. We are also evaluating the IATA pass and other platforms developed for specific markets. 

    We are working, too, on implementing Covid-free flights through a strategic partnership with a clinical laboratory that will result in a smooth, pre-flight testing experience. We strive to provide a stress-free journey and we aim to collaborate with those partners that will allow us to guarantee the return of the travel season.

    In terms of your fleet, you have opted to go with Embraer: please elaborate on the reasons behind this decision. 

    The Embraer 190 has a range of 4,260km, providing the capability to operate on routes such as Catania-Forlì or Florence-Catania. The GE engines are efficient and very quiet, allowing the aircraft to exceed the noise and emission-related requirements established by ICAO. The aircraft also has a very fast airport turnaround time. 

    Forward and aft doors on both sides of the fuselage allow rapid cleaning and disinfection. Boarding and deplaning with simultaneous servicing also allow for a relaxed experience for our passengers. In addition, refuelling only takes ten minutes and is via a single-point receptacle. The aircraft is equipped with HEPA filters, ensuring clean air throughout the trip. The needs of today’s customers have changed drastically and will continue to evolve, so having an aircraft that has the flexibility to adapt to our business needs  is essential. 

    As well as serving destinations across Italy, your routes include holiday hotspots such as Ibiza and Mykonos. How do you plan to expand on these in the future? 

    Following the events of 2020, we predict the rise of the conscious traveller; for Ego this means someone who is far more discerning about the journeys they go on, who is willing to be away from home for longer (thanks to remote working), and who is more appreciative of their surroundings and local people. 

    After months of cabin fever, there will be a universal hunger for those wide-open spaces that are not so well known. Last year, for instance, Sicily’s coastal resorts experienced a huge influx of visitors from the big cities and this trend is set to continue.

    According to statistics from Eurocontrol, some 100 million airline passenger journeys have been lost as a result of the lockdowns imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak. How can the industry come back from this; and what is your take on the outlook for commercial aviation? 

    Global demand for air travel is set to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023; this should be achievable as long as the vaccine proves effective and is distributed efficiently. All across the world, businesses in the travel and tourism sector have been left reeling from Covid and Italy is no exception. Tourism comprised 13.3 per cent of the nation’s GDP in 2019, equivalent to some €233 billion.

    Pent-up demand for travel and tourism is high, although many passengers are now looking for less-distant destinations, according to data compiled by adtech specialist Sojern. With interstate travel access still being negotiated, the economic fallout – and corresponding high rate of unemployment – is expected to take a toll on the sector long after lockdown measures have been eased.