US Gets Another Startup With aha! In Reno

Another startup in the United States is getting ready to launch operations in less than a month. ExpressJet Airlines is rebooting itself with the launch of aha!, a new leisure-focused airline with a base at Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO). To start, the airline will serve eight destinations from its hub in Nevada.

Reno is getting a new airline. Photo: Getty Images

aha! announces its launch

aha!, which is a short form for “air-hotel-adventure,” is a startup airline that will utilize Reno for its base. The flights will start from October 24th, 2021, to eight destinations in the western United States. Below are the following destinations with their anticipated launch dates:

  • Pasco/Tri-Cities, Washington from October 24th
  • Bakersfield, California from October 25th
  • Medford/Ashland, Oregon from October 31st
  • Eugene/Springfield, Oregon from November 1st
  • Ontario, California from November 4th
  • Redmond/Bend, Oregon from November 5th
  • Eureka/Arcata, California from November 9th
  • Fresno/Yosemite, California from November 10th

Each destination will be served thrice a week. aha! will only utilize 50-seat Embraer ERJ145 regional jets. The airline has plenty of experience with these aircraft. In the future, the airline wants to get to over 20 cities in the coming months.

ExpressJet CEO, Subodh Karnik, stated the following on the new airline launch:

“As ExpressJet began developing post-COVID flying opportunities that fit our history of serving smaller communities with regional aircraft, we realized that the old adage of ‘getting there is half the fun’ has become ‘just getting there burns up half the vacation. With so many under-served communities and the allure of Reno-Tahoe, the aha! brand model practically leapt at us.”

Reno offers a host of different tourism opportunities in the city. This includes casino resorts, dining options, outdoor adventure, and annual events like Burning Man, Hot August Nights, Reno Rodeo, the National Championship Air Raices, and more. There is also easy access to Lake Tahoe, offering a host of activities, especially skiing.

What is aha!

aha! is a leisure carrier. However, it is coming under the umbrella of ExpressJet Airlines. ExpressJet has formally flown to regional destinations across the United States.

ExpressJet used to be a traditional regional airline in the United States. The airline flew under the United Express banner. However, when the crisis hit, United decided to streamline its regional partners. ExpressJet was cut in favor of CommutAir. This forced ExpressJet to end flights, and United-owned Embraer 50-seaters went over to CommutAir.

After shutting down in October of last year, the airline chose not to give up. It began to plot a return, which started to gain steam this spring, and, after receiving DOT approval in July, there was little in the way for ExpressJet’s return.

Core to aha!’s model is the use of the Embraer ERJ145. This could be a benefit to the airline since it has experience with the type.

Beyond just being an airline, aha! will also be selling vacation packages. This includes customizable packages to take advantage of travel opportunities. This will consist of two to five-night vacation getaways that will be coming soon to augment airfare revenue.

Analyzing aha!’s strategy

aha! is targeting communities that do not have nonstop service to Reno, so it has monopolies on all markets. However, that does not necessarily mean the carrier will have an easy time turning a profit.

aha! is the latest startup to target underserved communities with nonstop flying. Reno is not a large airline hub, but there are some nonstop options for travelers. Alaska, for example, flies a seasonal route to Palm Springs, Southwest flies to Burbank and San Diego, and internationally, Volaris flies to Guadalajara in Mexico.

US Gets Another Startup With aha! In Reno
aha! is focusing on connecting communities that do not currently have nonstop service. Photo: aha!

The Embraer ERJ145 is a 50-seater regional jet. This is significantly smaller than what other low-cost startups, like Avelo or Breeze, offer. Even an airline like Frontier, which also serves point-to-point, peak-day travel itineraries, their smallest aircraft seats 180 passengers, having retired all of its Airbus A319s. Generally speaking, these higher-gauge aircraft can reduce costs.

The ERJ145 has served airlines well in regional destinations flying on behalf of major US airlines, but their cost structure is becoming uncompetitive compared to newer aircraft. However, this could be significantly offset based on ownership costs.

Like all startups in the US, aha! will face some challenges. Notably, aha! is the second western US-focused startup in 2021 after Avelo, though Avelo does not fly to Reno.