There's no shortage of new airlines servicing North America right now: Norwegian, WOW, Primera, XL Airways, Level, Flair, and Joon have recently sprung up or expanded. But none of these new carriers is based in the U.S.
That may be about to change, however, with three recent new hopefuls on the horizon.
In an effort to reinvent a dead airline, investors have bought up the trademark and other assets of World Airways, which has been defunct since 2014. The announced plan is ambitious: Buy some brand-new Boeing 787s and fly long-haul intercontinental routes, based from Miami and Los Angeles.
World Airways is no doubt a valuable name, but the new airline doesn't intend to emulate its predecessor. The old World Airways was mainly a charter line, with a few years of scheduled operations, and it did not survive a severe downturn of contract flying for the U.S. armed forces. As far as I can see, the new iteration will take over the name, but nothing else about the old line's business plan or product.
California Pacific Airlines
Another group is attempting to start California Pacific Airlines, which has been in the works since 2009. The plan is to Fly Embraer 145s and 170s from a base at Palomar airport in northern San Diego County to a handful of regional destinations, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, the Bay Area, and Cabo San Lucas.
The idea is to offer short flights between small airports and the upscale residential and business areas north of San Diego. This 8-year-old plan was delayed when the original investors ran out of money awaiting FAA certification. To avoid a similar fate, the new investors are buying out an existing airline's certificate. California Pacific now expects to start flying next spring.
New management at the nation's oldest start-up airline proposal, Baltia Air Lines (now 28 years and counting) hope to use the same strategy as California Pacific: Buy a defunct airline's certificate to bypass some of the red tape. The original plan was to fly 747s from New York JFK to St. Petersburg, Russia (then Leningrad) and Riga, Latvia. But that goal has been replaced by a more realistic one: Change the name to USGlobal Airways, and fly low-fare nonstop flights on smaller planes from Stewart Field north of New York City to various underserved cities in Europe, similar to Norwegian Air. So, if you can get a good deal on Norwegian, don't wait for USGlobal.
Which Is Worthwhile?
Of the three, World Airways would likely be the most significant for consumers. Low-fare service to southern parts of South America—notably Buenos Aires, Rio, Santiago, and Sao Paulo—would fill a gap.
California Pacific would offer improved convenience to/from northern San Diego County, but benefitting a relatively small number of travelers. If Baltia gets going, the big question is whether it will simply duplicate Norwegian, or open up some new routes. As far as I can tell, none of the three proposals includes innovations in its hard product. The "me, too" products in a few different markets are welcome competition, but probably not transformative.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.