Ever seen an aircraft livery covered in ads like it was on
the NASCAR circuit? Avatar Airlines has applied for certification from the Department
of Transportation with a plan to do just that.
"Tempered only by FCC safety regulations and requirements,
nothing will be sacred," Avatar wrote in a Nov. 19 DOT
application. "Anything that you see or touch will be available for purchase.
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 outside of the aircraft may be adorned by e.g., Pepsi,
Google or any other named brand on a massive aircraft 'wrap.' Tray tables and
overhead bins will be virtual billboards in the sky."
Avatar plans to fly a fleet of Boeing 747 jumbo jets, which
it would use to connect large cities within the continental U.S. and Hawaii.
Revenue from those ads, coupled with cargo revenue, would enable the company to
sell tickets for no more than $99 for an economy seat on flights to Hawaii,
provided tickets are purchased at least 30 days in advance. Transcontinental flights
would cost just $79, the company said in the DOT application. Economy customers would pay no more than $19
for short hops with 30 days advance purchase. The carrier also said it won’t
charge for bags, seat selection or even WiFi.
Sound too good to be true? Well, for now Avatar has no
planned launch date. That's because the company has much to do before getting
airborne. In addition to achieving DOT and FAA certification, it must raise all
of its funding from scratch. Avatar has put forward a private equity offering
in hopes of drawing $300 million in investment. The money would go toward all
start-up efforts, including purchasing 14 Boeing 747-400s and establishing a
training center and headquarters.
In its DOT application, Avatar said it plans to launch with
two aircraft servicing New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but would
expand to 14 within a year.
In an interview, Avatar chief legal counsel Mike Zapin said
the company could actually begin operations for much less than $300 million.
Just $7.5 million would be adequate to lease four aircraft. The company is
targeting 747s, in part, because they are being phased out by carriers around
the world, meaning they are available for purchase on the cheap. But Zapin said
Avatar also favors 747s because of their ample cargo space and because of how
many passengers they can fly in one. Avatar plans to configure the planes with
539 economy seats on the lower level and 42 premium seats upstairs. Routes will
only be offered between major cities in order to achieve high load factors.
Avatar is owned by Barry Michaels, who has more than 40
years of business experience, according to the DOT filing. However, Michaels
has no airline experience, though Zapin said he has spent 27 years studying budget
airlines. Several members of the Avatar team, he added, have extensive airline
This isn't the first go-round for Avatar. The company first
applied for DOT approval in 2008 as Family Airlines. That application remained
active until 2017 but was never approved, Zapin said. During those years, the
Family/Avatar team also sought to raise money. Zapin says they failed primarily
because they relied too much on "paper, pencil and stamps" for their marketing.
This time they plan to focus the campaign on digital marketing tools, including
Zapin acknowledged that brining the Avatar to launch will be
"If it were easy, everybody would be doing it," he said.
But he also said that a successful Avatar would have a
profound effect on the market.
"You are looking potentially at a seismic shift in the way that people travel," Zapin said.