Beond aims to create a “private jet” experience by using narrow-body aircraft (rather than the wide-body aircraft often used on routes to the Maldives) and offers a fully premium cabin with lie-flat seats, which are the same as Ferrari car sharing components.
“We wanted to do something completely new,” Beond chief commercial officer Sascha Feuerherd told CNN. “We purposely choose to go to a luxurious destination that is a little paradise in itself, where people travel to relax and have a good time. We want to make sure they can also travel there comfortably so that they are completely relaxed when they arrive.”
Headquartered in Male, Beond is scheduled to begin operations in autumn 2023, initially with a small fleet of Airbus A319 aircraft before switching to the larger Airbus A321. Dubai and Delhi are the first two destinations confirmed.
About three dozen airlines currently fly to Velana International Airport, the main airport near Male, the capital of the Maldives. To compete with them, Beond plans to choose its destinations carefully, shipping customers directly to the island rather than connecting through hubs like airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.
“We’re targeting airports with a large service area, some wealth behind them, and then transporting passengers directly,” says Feuerherd. In Germany, for example, Beond won’t be targeting Frankfurt, a competitive business hub. Instead, they go to Munich, where there is less competition and a higher proportion of leisure tourists.
In other markets, such as Asia, Beond plans to compete directly with other operators and differentiate itself by offering higher quality service. “The Maldives is one of the markets that can accommodate an aircraft, even most of the economy class,” Feuerherd said. “But that makes the Maldives lose some high-end passengers because if they can’t find enough transport, they’d rather go elsewhere. That’s where we’re really in the game.”
Beond’s Airbus A319 offers only 44 seats in total, although the plane can carry up to 156 passengers in an all-economy layout. On the larger A321, due to enter service in 2024, they plan to have 68 seats on the plane, which normally accommodates up to 220 economy-class passengers.
That means no dreaded middle seats — the two-row configuration is designed to provide a sense of luxury and comfort. The seats, designed by Italian manufacturer Optimares to provide a similar interior for the custom-designed Four Seasons A321 private jet, share components with the LaFerrari, a luxury sports car that cost around 1.5 million when it was released in 2013 dollars and is now selling for a lot more at auction.
“I’m about six feet tall, and so is our CEO, and that’s pretty much the size reference we work with to keep us from sliding out of bed,” Feuerherd says. “We also decided very quickly that we wanted two side by side because of the nature of our passengers, many of whom are couples.”
Beond is jointly owned by UAE company Arabesque and Maldives hotel company SIMDI, and its operating certificate is the Maldives designated carrier. It has a 50-year agreement with the Maldives government.
While the airline plans to start flying as early as September, it remains coy about opening destinations beyond Delhi and Dubai, but Feuerherd said that once it reaches full capacity (by the end of 2024), around 60% of the airline’s traffic will be driven by airlines. In Europe, there are about 20 destinations.
Asian routes will include Japan, South Korea and China, with Beond also offering direct flights to Australia (from Perth) and South Africa (initially to Cape Town).
By the end of 2024, the airline plans to operate about a dozen aircraft, all on lease, including some brand new A321LRs, the long-range version of the popular A321.
The use of narrow-body aircraft is uncommon on some of Beond’s longer routes, which are typically served by larger wide-body aircraft such as the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787.
However, all-business-class airlines have used narrowbodies before. La Compagnie, a French boutique airline flying between Paris and New York, has two A321LRs in its fleet of four (the others are all A321neos). Four Seasons Private Jet is also an A321LR. Meanwhile, British Airways flew an all-business-class flight from London to New York using the A318, the smallest aircraft in Airbus’ A320 family.
Maybe small planes are the key. EOS, Maxjet and Silverjet all offered all-business-class transatlantic flights before their bankruptcy in 2007 and 2008, and all used wide-body aircraft.
Feuerherd said that for most passengers, the smaller aircraft won’t be a problem because while the cabin lacks the “ventilation” of a larger plane, it will add to the private jet feel.
“I do believe that the pros and cons are really equal there,” he said. “We couldn’t fill a widebody with this concept—it would be a bit too big. But we can save a lot by using a narrowbody, in terms of ownership, fuel burn, employee involvement, landing and handling expenses, and that really makes us Competitive advantage over larger aircraft.”
As a result, Beond’s pricing will be “attractive”, with round-trip fares from Europe around $3,000, but prices will rise during the high season – which in the case of the Maldives is between December and April.
By comparison, the cheapest business class flight from London to Male in peak season, CNN found, is $3,133 on Etihad Airways in January 2024. Oman Air’s flights from Frankfurt start at $2,762, a peak-season fare that’s cheaper than Beond’s suggested low-season fare. However, neither flight is direct.
Meanwhile, Emirates is currently selling Dubai-Male business-class tickets from December to April next year, starting at around $3,100. There are no direct flights from Delhi, but airlines including Air India offer business-class seats with one-way connections starting at about $750.
“My personal goal on the business side is that if we get too greedy, it won’t help,” Feuerherd said. “We don’t want to be the price leader.” Most bookings are expected to come from travel agents, not directly from customers, he added.
Rob Morris, global head of consulting at aviation consultancy Cirium, said the routes Beond was initially targeting – Dubai and Delhi – had different potential.
“Flight service from Male to Dubai is currently very good, with an average of seven flights per day in August 2023, with more than 60,000 one-way seats for the month,” he said, citing schedule data extracted by Cirium.
“This includes about 12% of premium seats. Competition on this route will be challenging.
“In contrast, Delhi-Male is currently unserved, at least not directly, so there may be more opportunities.”
Mike Stengel, head of Aerodynamic Consulting, another aviation consultancy, said that in the history of aviation, the fortunes of all-business-class airlines are not good: “One reason is that their fortunes are tied to these concentrated niche markets; Another reason is that their fortunes are tied to these concentrated niches. They simply don’t offer the same types of connectivity options as network airlines.”
He added that by only connecting with premium passengers, they are vulnerable to falling or weak business travel demand: “In the long run, I think they’re going to face some pretty tough competition, especially from the Middle East. “airline. It’s hard for anyone to beat first or business class on Emirates, Qatar or Etihad. “
However, he believes the Maldives is certainly the right market for new luxury options. “I think there’s some merit to that, especially if they can channel demand from luxury travel agencies to sell it as part of a package,” he said.
“There may be a niche market for high-end travelers who want more of the private jet experience but may not have the budget for a private jet.”