When Lukas Johnson led the group that chose routes for Allegiant Air, his team couldn't schedule MD-80s to fly more than 200 miles from their Las Vegas base on hot, summer afternoons.
The old airplanes, which were retired last month, had serious performance limitations. But Johnson, a wizard of network planning, made them work, finding the right mix of markets to produce big margins for Allegiant, one of America's most profitable airlines.
At his next job, Johnson won't be so limited. As I wrote Tuesday, Johnson is leading commercial strategy for David Neeleman's new U.S. airline, which should fly by 2021. Neeleman has committed to 60 Airbus A220-300s, the best-performing single-aisle aircraft available.
"This is a plane that can do seven or eight types of different network missions," Johnson said. "It's super economical. It is also smaller gauge than a 320 or 737, and it also has better runway performance. You basically have the most flexible narrow-body plane out there."
Neeleman wants to fly point-to-point routes that aren't served today. That's what Johnson did at Allegiant, but now he'll have new airplanes and more options. He told me he could send the A220s to Hawaii, Europe, and South America, as well as within North America.
He'll also have a better product. While some travelers may worry Johnson will bring an Allegiant-style no-frills approach to the new airline's product, that won't happen. Neeleman has a record of building pro-customer airlines, and for the startup, he's planning a hybrid low-cost, high-service approach.
"People kind of have to dissociate with the Allegiant brand," Johnson said. "It's more about, can you take the concept of stimulating traffic and bring it to something new?"
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