2023 Highlights: Interview With PLAY CEO Birgir Jonsson

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In the middle of 2023, AviationSource got to sit down with PLAY CEO Birgir Jonsson, which was on the one year anniversary of their operational launch.

Airbus A321XLR operations look very likely for PLAY following an interview with CEO Birgir Jonsson. He said that “2023 will be our year” via an interview with AviationSource.

A lot has changed in the space of six months, with Jonsson laying out the foundations for what he believes will bring PLAY into the stratosphere.

Without further ado, let’s get into it…

PLAY is on Track…


Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

Jonsson started out by mentioning that the airline is currently on track in terms of its plans for the year ahead:

“I think, in general, we are pretty much on track to executing the business model we have laid out for the market and investors.”

“Of course, we have had some bumps in the road, like with the price of fuel and things like that.”

“But in terms of passenger numbers, the number of aircraft, load factors, etc., I think we’re doing as well as we would’ve hoped, and that’s getting better every day”.

PLAY recently celebrated a significant milestone of 1,000,000 passengers flying with the Icelandic low-cost carrier.

Looking ahead to the year, Jonsson believes that the current business model will be beneficial to consumers in newly-launched markets such as Glasgow (May 2023) and destinations in Canada.

“Cheaper prices to the U.S is the thing that we can offer the market. We chose Glasgow because we saw an opportunity to disrupt that market and offer lower fares than the competition”.  

“[As for Canada], we have had the same response from the launch of our services into New York Stewart in regards to utilizing secondary airports such as Toronto’s Hamilton Airport”.

“We see very healthy bookings and especially good bookings for onward connections into Europe. We believe that if we can offer the right prices, and ensure the demand is there, then that is what we will do. We offer low prices because the secondary airports are less expensive”.

“Consumers are happy to commute into the city center of these destinations for the prices on offer to these secondary airports”.

Airbus A321XLR Acquisition Looking Likely


PLAY: 2023 Will Be Our Year, A321XLRs Very Likely
Photo Credit: Airbus.

The last time that AviationSource interviewed the PLAY CEO, he mentioned that he was open to the idea of acquiring Airbus A321XLR aircraft.

At that time, Jonsson said that the aircraft “looks very interesting on paper” and that he was “closely monitoring it”.

Six months on, we asked him whether his mind has changed on this. And it certainly has:

“PLAY will continue adding A320neo and A321neos. But the next transformative step in the company will be when we get those aircraft, the XLRs. It isn’t imminent, but we are in discussions with both Airbus and Lessors”.

“I think it’s more realistic to get them on the lease because if you buy them, deliveries won’t happen until 2028. But for lessors, there will be aircraft coming in the next 18-24 months, so we are highly interested in that”.

So, with that in mind, it remains pretty clear that PLAY will be operating A321XLRs in the next few years, which will open up further potential later down the line.

PLAY is Interested in Schiphol Flights…


PLAY: 2023 Will Be Our Year, A321XLRs Very Likely
Photo Credit: Adrian Olstad/AviationSource
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On the conversation of further expansion into Europe, the PLAY CEO talked about how Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is of interest to the airline.

However, given the current issues ongoing in terms of capacity reductions at the airport, Jonsson said that the destination is still on his list.

“As you know, there is a slot issue at Schiphol. We actually flew there last Winter, but we only had slots on a seasonal basis.”

“We are in negotiations and communication with them about getting some slots, but as highlighted in the aviation media, they are cutting the capacity in the airport”.

Asked about whether they would serve secondary airports such as Eindhoven or Rotterdam, the PLAY CEO said:

“I think it’s going to be a difficult sell trying to market Eindhoven or Rotterdam flights, as many passengers from the U.S would want to go to Amsterdam”.

“On this, we are going to Dusseldorf in the Summer, and we are kind of hoping that some of the Dutch traffic will leak there”.

“But you know, Amsterdam is a gap in our network for sure. We want to operate there as it’s also an important cargo destination too. So that’s really an airport that we would like to get back online”.

No Premium Products at PLAY Anytime Soon…


We are beginning to see more of an emergence of low-cost long-haul carriers offering premium products, more notably premium economy.

AviationSource asked the PLAY CEO if the airline ever envisages entering that market. Jonsson said the following on this:

“Currently, we have an all-economy with three [seat] pitches.”

“Passengers can’t book and pay for the extra seat pitches. That will remain the same in that regard”.

Positive Capitalization in the Face of External Pressures


PLAY: 2023 Will Be Our Year, A321XLRs Very Likely
Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

PLAY has done very well in its growth plans over the course of 2022 and this year, despite the number of external pressures there have been.

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Jonsson went into detail on how the airline has managed to do well so far:

“First of all, last year, we acquired 25% of the Icelandic local market. So basically, 25% of all Icelandic people that traveled abroad last year chose PLAY and in some months up to 35%”.

“So there’s a clear need and a gap in the market for this kind of company”.

“We will be successful because we have cost under control. Despite the unexpected $32m fuel bill last year, this emphasizes our focus on cost control”.

Airbus A321neos Are Utilized 13-15 Hours Per Day


PLAY: 2023 Will Be Our Year, A321XLRs Very Likely
Colin Cooke Photo, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Airbus A321neo has been the bread and butter for its U.S-Iceland-Europe operations, and the PLAY CEO went into some depth behind this.

When asked about whether the airline would expand further afield into the U.S with this aircraft type, such as Orlando, Charlotte, and Jacksonville, Jonsson said:

“With the A321neos, we can’t do that at the moment due to the need for additional fuel tanks. At the moment, we are operating our aircraft 13-15 hours a day, which is quite a lot”.

“We would want to utilize them for 24 hours a day, but we need to turn into a bigger company to establish that. Once we get there, we can add another connecting part to the flight. Right now, it is all about the utilization of aircraft and crew”.

“The XLRs will change the game with this. From there, we would be able to do all kinds of flights eastwards and westwards”.

Asked whether PLAY would consider doing the equivalent of “milk run” flights with the existing A321neos and stop at multiple U.S destinations in one go, Jonsson said:

“We haven’t looked at it, to be honest. You would have to have a crew in all these places, and it would add a lot of complexities and cost.”

“For the foreseeable future, we have a longer list of clearer things that we can do that we know is going to add value before we go into those kinds of bells and whistles that are maybe more interesting or sexy”.

PLAY For The Rest of the Year…


MarcelX42, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, the PLAY CEO remains optimistic about what 2023 is going to look like for the airline:

“2023 is really the year where we become a real company for a full year, basically. Last year, we launched U.S destinations in the Spring, and then we had COVID in the first quarter.”

“We enter this year with all of our sales and marketing. The distribution is much better.”

“We have a root network that is reasonably matured, and we basically come to the game much more prepared, and I only see positive things happening”.

With that in mind, it remains clear that this is PLAY’s chance for some significant success, with there being a healthy focus both on the short-term but also on the medium-to-long-term perspective as well.

It is definitely an exciting thing to look out for, that’s for sure.

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