Friday, March 2, 2018

Flybondi's first month of service plagued with operational problems

Flybondi, Argentina's first Low-Cost Carrier (LCC), started regularly scheduled service on 26Jan18 between Cordoba (COR) and Iguazu (IGR) adding several more routes since then, including:

* Cordoba (COR) to Bariloche (BRC), Buenos Aires El Palomar (EPA) and Mendoza (MDZ) 

* Mendoza (MDZ) to Bariloche (BRC) and Iguazu (IGR)

* Buenos Aires El Palomar (EPA) to Bariloche (BRC), Neuquen (NQN) and Tucuman (TUC).

For most of the first month, the airline attempted to operate their route system with only one aircraft, 737-800 LV-HKS (c/n 33821/1698), which unsurprisingly resulted in ongoing reliability issues:

* Demonstration Flight Interrupted 

On 23Jan18, three days before the start of service, a demonstration flight from Cordoba (COR) for the press and others had to turn around after only 12 minutes in the air apparently due to a warning indication related to one of its engines.  With many established interests being opposed to the threat posed by LCC service in Argentina, this presumably small incident received a lot of negative press coverage in the Argentine media.

* Baggage shipped to Destination by Truck  

A Bariloche (BRC) to Cordoba (COR) flight on 03Feb18 had to operate under weight restrictions resulting in all the passenger luggage being surfaced by truck to Cordoba (COR).  Normally, a 737-800 can easily take on a full load of passengers and baggage plus enough fuel to fly the distance from Bariloche (BRC) to Cordoba (COR) with enough reserves for circling over the destination airport for 45 minutes and diversion to an alternate airport.  

However, Bariloche (BRC) is located somewhat high above sea level at 2,936 feet (895 meters) plus it was a hot day, which, according to Flybondi, lowered the aircraft's maximum allowable takeoff weight for the length of Bariloche's runway (the higher the elevation and the higher the temperature, the thinner the air, so aircraft have to be lighter to take off within a given space).    

Additionally, it seems that the aircraft's systems were not qualified for operations over 29,000 ft., which meant flying at a lower altitude where the air is more dense creating more drag and burning more fuel.  This meant that the airline had to load considerably more fuel than usual to reach Cordoba (COR), which in turn did not allow for carrying all the weight of a full load of passengers and their baggage.  Given this situation the airline had to choose what to leave behind in Bariloche (BRC) and elected to leave the passenger baggage, which it trucked to Cordoba. 

This was the explanation given by the airline along with information from other sources.   

* Cordoba (COR) to Buenos Aires El Palomar (EPA) Inaugural Flight Marred

The airline's inaugural flight from Cordoba (COR) to Buenos Aires El Palomar (EPA) on 09Feb18 was diverted to Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE) due to bad weather creating conditions below operating minimums at EPA, which does not have the same sophistication of landing aids and other equipment as EZE.  The aircraft then ferried empty to EPA where it finally departed on the inaugural flight to Cordoba (COR).  The airline responded properly to the situation but still, what would have been a shining moment for the carrier turned into one that was more disappointment than celebration.        

* Bad Wheel on Sole 737-800 required Chartering in Aircraft from Andes Lineas Aereas  

A problem with one of the wheels on the only plane in Flybondi's fleet at the time rendered the plane inoperable requiring the airline to charter in aircraft from Andes to cover six flights on 15Feb18 and two more the following day, inconveniencing in excess of 625 passengers.   

* Worst Problem - Most Flights Late with Many Cancelled

Despite the highly-publicized events mentioned above, Flybondi's biggest problem in its first month of service has been a large number of late flights, with delays of 2-3 hours being common and some extending up to 8 hours with a fair number of flights being cancelled altogether. 

* Better Days Likely Ahead 

Flybondi took delivery of its second 737-800, LV-HFR (c/n 28071/133), on 14Feb18 with its third aircraft due imminently, which should help the airline cover its routes more reliably.  

Up until 27Feb18, Flybondi had completed 139 flights of which 109 originated/terminated in Cordoba (COR).  The airline plans to operate 33 routes and 10 aircraft by the end of this year.  Indeed, just this past week Flybondi added Buenos Aires El Palomar (EPA) to Bariloche (BRC), Neuquen (NQN), and Tucuman (TUC).     

Flybondi claims to be selling 20,000 tickets per week, which would fill 16-18 737-800 per day, but they presently do not fly close to that many flights !  They will need the half-dozen or so additional aircraft due to join its fleet this year sooner rather than later !       


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