IndiGo posts a loss of INR 100Cr for Q2’15, expands fleet with Tigerair aircraft

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IndiGo acft

IndiGo, the airline known to consistently post annual profits, realised a net loss of INR 100Cr in Q2 FY2014-15, covering the months of July, August and September. In this period, the airline added a capacity of 15%, compared to Q2’14, but flew 21% more passengers – a total of 5.7 Million.

The airline ended Q2’15 with 10 aircraft more than Q2’14, with the fleet strength standing at 82 as of September 30th 2015. This is an increase of 14% in fleet strength compared to Q2’14. The disproportionately higher increase in capacity compared to fleet increase is explained through a 3% increase in average aircraft utilisation, up to an average of around 11.5hrs in Q2’15.

The increase in passengers in Q2 is partly due to an increase in capacity, and partly due to market stimulation efforts that IndiGo adopted, to keep up with SpiceJet’s initiatives. On April 4th, IndiGo launched fares between INR 1,499 and 2,199 for travel between 1st July 2014 and 30th September 2014. The period of travel was exclusively in Q2’15. This was followed by few other promos, most of which were for travel in September 2015. This resulted in September recording the highest growth in passenger, Year-on-Year, as seen in the graph below.

Cost and Rev Indicators Trend

IndiGo’s capacity increased in the three months of Q2: July, August and September. However, compared to Q2’14, the number of passengers per ASK dropped in July, picked up in August, and shot up in September due to numerous sales that targeted September: historically the weakest month for domestic travel. The airline’s cargo performance recorded a growth in July and September. The increase is partly due to the fact that IndiGo has started carrying mail in addition to freight, since May 2014.

Average flight hours per departure have reduced, indicating on average shorter flights flown by the airline, due to increase in domestic flights. International flights, which comprised 6.6% of all flights in Q2’14, has halved to 3.4% in Q2’15, indicating a strengthening on the domestic front and a reduction on the international front (International flights dropped by almost 40%).

IndiGo load factorsHowever, a lack of vigour and success in market stimulation may have been responsible for the domestic load factors (LF) of the airline to consistently trail the average domestic load factors (see graph above). It may be possible that since IndiGo responded to sales, especially those by stimulation leader SpiceJet, but didn’t initiate them, the efficacy of the sales drives may have been severely limited (a lot of planning and analysis goes into each sale. Responding to others may rob the respondent the time to perform sufficient due diligence). See the comparison between SpiceJet’s and IndiGo’s load factors, below – IndiGo can do a lot better. This could have had an adverse impact on the airline’s RASK (Revenue per available seat kilometre). We consider only the domestic LF, as International forms just 11% of the airline’s deployed capacity.

Interestingly, Rakesh Gangwal and Sanjiv Kapoor have both earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania. However, a true low cost airline experience (and proven market stimulation strategy) is brought to the table by SpiceJet CCO Kaneswaran Avili. His experience at AirAsia and Tigerair have resulted in the graph below.

A comparison with SpiceJet

6E vs SG lfA comparison with SpiceJet becomes inevitable – the two largest low cost carriers with seemingly different strategies today.

Sources within IndiGo reveal that the airline’s CASK (cost per available seat kilometre) is at around INR 3.6. Compared to its next biggest LCC competitor – SpiceJet’s CASK of INR 4.07, this is INR 47 paise lower. IndiGo lost INR 175 for every passenger flown in Q2.

The CASK at IndiGo seems to be INR 3.6, and the RASK for Q2 may hover around INR 3.4-3.5. This may be higher than SpiceJet’s Q2 RASK of INR 3.26, which was impacted by cancellations and clubbing of flights.

Here are two interesting scenarios:

One – where IndiGo could have stimulated the market like SpiceJet. An aggressive market stimulation may have narrowed the loss for IndiGo, or it could have perhaps reported a profit. The airline could have flown fuller airplanes (in the light of its disappointing load factors) and brought in more revenue, resulting in a higher RASK. SpiceJet in 2014-15 is undoubtedly the Indian market leader in stimulation. IndiGo on the other hand didn’t respond too well to this. It will be interesting if this figures in their next year’s strategy.

Two: Where SpiceJet could have had the CASK that IndiGo enjoys. If SpiceJet’s CASK was INR 3.6 against its INR 4.07, its loss would have narrowed to around just INR 120Cr. Despite its high RASK, SpiceJet was able to salvage the situation to a level where the loss was arrested at INR 310Cr.

If IndiGo starts behaving like a true low cost carrier, perhaps emulating, and not merely responding to the kind of market stimulation that SpiceJet was able to execute, it may become an untouchable. The only way for other airlines to survive will be through differentiation: Vistara as full service, with favourable connections to the world through Singapore; Jet as a full service, with favourable connections to the world through the middle least; and SpiceJet through its well differentiated in flight services and Tier II/III connectivity. AirAsia and GoAir may face the highest heat as they yet do not have an offering that IndiGo doesn’t. While AirAsia may have the backing to grow to a scale to take on IndiGo with scale and lower costs, GoAir will be the loner.

Fleet and network expansion

A strategy that IndiGo seems to be applying is market dominance through excess capacity, frequency and network. The airline, however, is yet to make the most of its ‘overcapacity’.

IndiGo received its 100th aircraft on the 3rd of November, 2014, completing an order that was placed in 2005. With this 100th aircraft, the fleet size rose to 84 (16 A320s were sent off as per the old lease contract that lasted six years).

To fill the gap between November and last next year – when its NEOs from its second, 180 aircraft order placed in 2011, are expected to be delivered, IndiGo has ‘short term’ leased around 12 Airbus A320 aircraft used by Tigerair or its now defunct subsidiary at Indonesia – Tigerair Mandala. The first aircraft, a non-sharklet A320 that flew at Indonesia, joined IndiGo’s fleet on 21st November as VT-IDB.

IndiGo today (26th Nov 14) announced Kozikhode as its newest, 37th destination, which will be connected 2nd January onwards. With this, the airline’s daily flight count will rise to 554.

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AirAsia India’s performance in Q2

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AirAsia_ATB

AirAsia India completed its first full quarter of operations. The airline, which took off on June 12th 2014, carried 128,089 passengers in 946 flights to 5 destinations, in the Q2 period. It posted a net loss of approximately INR 29 Crore.

The airline had had an interesting performance. To know more about how it performed, and get a glimpse on the outlook of the airline, click here: AirAsia India – Q2FY15 performance and outlook.

It’s Friday! And we call upon the CIA.

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Art00_sIt’s been a long, tiring week, both in the offices and on twitter. The best way to unwind is to look at certain things from a light – very light angle. Wait, we’re taking something totally irrelevant.

CIA – Comical Indian Aviation – brainchilded by The Flying Engineer and encouraged, fed, and moulded by Dr. DSL, is an attempt to elicit a laugh at the end of a stressful week. We can’t promise you a frequency of CIA strips. Nor can we say if we’re dedicated to the CIA strip. Enjoy it as it comes.

Don’t mistake us, we’re not taking sides. We’re not stating facts. We’re not breaking news. We don’t know whom we’re talking about, and we are certain that any and all interpretations that you may arrive at are purely the figments of your imagination based on the creativity of our comic ‘strip’.

By the way, we had thought of FIA – Funny Indian Aviation, but dropped it knowing how nasty the FIA can be to some.

So, enjoy ACT – 1! (Click to enlarge)

Art01_s

Q2 with Professor Sanjiv Kapoor

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Sanjiv_funny_faceSpiceJet’s COO Sanjiv Kapoor conducted a class on introductory airline economics. He also dived, to some depth, into the Q2 results, and shared views on the airline’s performance.

The Flying Engineer also did his homework, and analyses, together with what was said in the class, SpiceJet’s performance.

Also talked about is a bit beyond Q2: October. Load factors at the airline dipped. In November, the airline’s fleet size has shrunk. The why, and what next of these and more, here: Q2 results and Prof. Sanjiv Kapoor’s introductory class on Airline Economics.

You may also want to later read our pre-Q2 results analysis, here: SpiceJet in Q(2) – Great Performance in Testing Times

DGCA: Disappoints even when reporting data

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DGCA Data Error

The DGCA’s capabilities (or the lack of it) have come under question both before and after the FAA downgrade. What is further disappointing is that the data published by the DGCA is not accurate enough to be used for serious academic or analytical purposes. When thumbing through the data for Jet Airways, it was brought to light that the data reported by the DGCA in its Traffic Reports and Traffic Data differ, and both differ from the data reported by the airline.

Interestingly, the errors reported in the ‘Traffic Data’ for Jet Airways as published on its site are at places huge. The ‘Traffic Reports’, released around the 15th of every month, are more accurate, but lack sufficient data for an analysis. Certain data with have an error less than 1% may be ignored on a case basis. But the question still lingers: how two publications from the DGCA can have largely differing data between them – an error that may not be attributed to rounding-off-error.

This discrepancy was brought to light only through Jet Airways’ published data. Since other airlines do not publish such data, the extent of errors and deviations are uncertain.

Further, in the month of November, two airlines, both flying with red colours, have had numerous cancellations and delays. Delays and cancellations are reported by airports. In the case of Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, the airport has been using the term ‘rescheduled’ for one particular carrier (and interestingly not for any other carrier), which effectively masks both delays and cancellations. In such a case, a delayed flight, operating ‘on time’ in accordance with a ‘rescheduled’ departure timing will prevent true OTP data (though the DGCA does not yet list the OTP for the airline in question) and ‘Cancellation Rate’ from being published in Traffic Reports, making comparisons between airlines both difficult and unfair.

AirAsia India’s pattern (or a part of it) effective November 17th

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New Pattern WS DGCA

AirAsia India, in its winter schedule filed and approved with/by the DGCA, has listed a slew of new flights, most notably the doubling of its Jaipur (JAI) and Chandigarh (IXC) frequency, introducing a double Vishakhapatnam (VTZ) frequency, and adding another frequency to Cochin (COK). The new schedule will require four patterns (four aircraft), but the fourth pattern is evidently incomplete. AirAsia India is expected to announce further new routes soon – an announcement delayed by at least two weeks now.

In the new pattern, the airline seems to focus on a mix of business and casual travellers. Early morning / morning departures to & from Goa, Cochin, Jaipur and Vishakhapatnam, followed by evening/late evening returns from these destinations. The Bangalore-Chandigarh sector’s plan is baffling (though the route records very good loads), as it seems to deploy two flights within two and a half (2:30) hrs of each other. The airline does this with its late morning Cochin flight, as well. The airline still seems to have an unfavorable slot for Chennai.

The aircraft utilization in the third pattern will touch an all time high of 14 hours.

The airline, to fly the new pattern (if it still holds – most of the airline’s forward looking statements haven’t fructified) will need two additional aircraft by November 17th. This fleet of four aircraft will require between 16 – 20 sets of crew, which at the highest requirement is 20 Captains, 20 First Officers, 20 Senior Flight Attendants, and 60 Flight Attendants (which may also include trainee cabin crew). The airline will need to go on a hiring spree for experienced cabin crew. Since the start of operations, the airline has held 11 walk-in cabin crew recruitment drives (including one tomorrow and another on Thursday), targeted mostly at fresh (inexperienced) applicants.

The airline was supposed to have received A320 MSN 6262, registered as VT-ATD, from Toulouse, but the aircraft was re-registered to 9M-AJT and delivered to Malaysia AirAsia. It is very likely that the next two Airbus A320 aircraft will be used airplanes from the AirAsia group. The question is not which, but when.

Opinion: Incomplete updates to employees may do more harm

Airline_concealed

Recently, the pilots of an Indian airline received an email from one of their c-level officers, stating that the Boeing 737-900s in the fleet are on their way out. The email reportedly did not include details concerning the fleet size.

Considering that the airline in discussion has six Boeing 737-900s in the fleet, of which one has entered storage, but the remaining five are still flying for the airline, speculations were rife in the airline, among its Boeing flight crew, that the fleet will drop from the present strength of 33 to around 26. If the Boeing 737-900 that entered storage is to be discounted, the Boeing fleet strength drops to 28. Some flight crew believed the fleet size will drop to 26, considering six 737-900s and one Boeing 737-800 that, according to their observations, has been on ground for long.

No, there were no rival airlines that were spreading rumours. Rather, it was the lack of information in the email that had led to speculation. Very evidently, any flight crew who receives such information will do the fleet math to come to a conclusion – perhaps based on incomplete information but definitely not baseless- about further fleet downsizing. While the c-level officer may have sent out the email to keep his employees informed – a commendable practice – apparently one key aspect was missed out – to think of the consequences of such information – generation of rumours about the health of the airline, and a loss of confidence in the future of the airline, among the very people whose morale he intends to boost.

What he stated was fact. However, sources reveal that the airline may be leasing Boeing 737-800s from an overseas carrier. The 737-900s don’t fit in well in the airline, and replacing them with the lower capacity -800s is a wise thing to do, to standardise the fleet. This key piece of information, for employees to realise that the fleet size will remain unaffected, and that the airline was further optimising and streamlining, was missed out.

Did the chief officer err by not mentioning the induction of -800 aircraft? No. Was the email well intended? Yes- there is no reason to believe otherwise. There may be no need to share forward looking information, as failure to acquire the assets on time will again raise a question on the health of the airline. What he possibly could have done was to add a line stating that the airline will be taking measures to ensure the fleet size remains unchanged. The ambiguous line, surprisingly, will have just sufficient information to answer more questions than raise doubts.

IndiGo receives its 100th aircraft, fleet size touches 84

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A320_IFH_first_sharkPlease read the edit footnote.

IndiGo today received its 100th Airbus A320 from Hamburg, Germany – one of Airbus’s three presently operational assembly lines. The aircraft, bearing manufacturer serial number 6336, and registered as VT-IAY, was ‘delivered’ to IndiGo yesterday (3-Nov), at around 2300HRS IST (1730 UTC). IndiGo flew the aircraft from Hamburg (Germany) to Istanbul (Turkey), and after a brief tech stop (for refuelling), continued to Delhi. The aircraft landed at 0900 HRS IST (033UTC).

This aircraft marks the completion of the first order of airplanes IndiGo had placed with Airbus, on 16th June 2005, during the Paris Airshow. Back then, IndiGo was just a name.

However, even as far back as in 2005, IndiGo had done its homework well. Not many times does Airbus praise a yet-to start airline with words such as, “IndiGo is the result of extensive analysis and planning by very experienced airline executives and we are convinced it will be a successful new player in a market that is both large and fast growing”. These words were spoken by the then Airbus President and CEO, Noël Forgeard.

IndiGo today has survived as the only airline in India to consistently report profits over the last six years, and stands to witness the completion of a massive order of aircraft. The airline firmed up an order for 180 Airbus A320s on 22nd June 2011, for 150 A320NEO and 30 A320CEO (current engine option) aircraft, making it one of the NEO’s launch customers. On 15th October 2014, IndiGo signed an MoU for 250 A320NEO aircraft. As covered first by The Flying Engineer, IndiGo will short term lease A320 aircraft from ailing Tiger Airways.

IndiGo’s fleet

Almost one year after placing an order for 100 aircraft – in June 2005 – IndiGo received its first A320 on 28th July 2006. The airline commenced operations on 04th August 2006 – 11 days before the completion of India’s 59th year of Independence, and just 6 days after receiving its first aircraft.

All the aircraft since day one have been directly delivered to the airline from Airbus. Till date, the airline has not flown an aircraft that was previously used by another operator. The airline has engaged in sale-leaseback deals for each of its aircraft. The early lease agreements were for about six years (see adjacent graph) – a period just long enough to make the most of a brand new, efficient Airbus A320, while escaping the costly ‘D’ check. Lease agreements have been revised this year to extend the lease to 10 years, in view of IndiGo’s plans to aggressively add capacity to take on the Indian market.

IndiGo Returned Aircraft AgeAnomalies have existed in the airline’s aircraft lease. Of the 16 aircraft that have been returned, five flew for the airline for a period ranging from as low as three months to 1 year 5 months (see adjacent graph). Three of these aircraft are today being flown by Etihad, the same airline IndiGo is losing a large number of pilots to.

IndiGo Present Aircraft Age

Of the 84 aircraft in operation, almost quarter the fleet size is between two to three years old, and another quarter between two to one year old (see graph). This shows that nearly half the fleet size was inducted in the last two years. Interestingly, it is two years since Kingfisher airlines stopped all operations, and nearly 60% of the fleet – almost 50 aircraft- was inducted since then. IndiGo expanded fast enough to grab the void in the market that Kingfisher left behind, to today command the largest domestic market share, which is upwards of 30%.

Distribution FrequencyOn average, every 35th Airbus A320 produced since 2006 has been delivered to IndiGo. On average, the airline has received one Airbus A320 every month.

Yearly DistributionInterestingly, though, the airline, for 120 days – between 1st April 2014 and 30th July 2014 – did not receive any aircraft (see graph above – red arrow). It is the longest gap between aircraft deliveries in the history of the airline. The yearly frequency of aircraft joining the airline has not been consistent. (See adjacent graph).

The graphs also show that the 6 year lease, which was in effect earlier, has been extended since early this year.

Registration Series

Registrations

IndiGo had to adopt five different registration series to cater to its 100 aircraft. Of these five series, only three – the IN, IE, and IF series have had all the English alphabets as the third letter.

All 16 aircraft that have left IndiGo’s fleet were from the IN series. Sharklet equipped A320 aircraft at IndiGo started in the IF series, with VT-IFH. VT-IFH was the first shraklet equipped A320 in India.

With Airbus’s continuous improvement to the A320, every series has something unique, with some changes that may not be noticeable from the outside. For example, VT-IAP onwards, all A320s have a smooth nose, with the lightning strips now embedded in the nose cone (see image comparison below). This helps reduce aerodynamic drag.

IndiGo_nose_differences

With 30 Airbus A320CEOs still in the order book, IndiGo may sustain the induction of 1 A320 a month for the next 2.5 years atleast. Tigerair’s 12 A320s may be used to boost capacity till such time IndiGo’s target fleet size with its own aircraft is reached. With Airbus’s initial A320NEO production rate set to be slow, deliveries of a mixture of A320CEOs and A320NEOs may start late next year, with mixed deliveries running perhaps into 1.5 years, as Airbus gradually boosts production rate (with its new FAL at Mobile, Alabama) and transitions to an A320NEO line from the A320NEO and CEO mix line. However, conversion of some of IndiGo’s A320CEO to NEOs is expected.

Thanks to Oscar Victor for certain info.

Edit, thanks to Cyril Roy: As per Flightglobal, the 30 A320CEOs have been converted to A320NEOs. No CEOs exist on Airbus’s order book for IndiGo. In the light of this, it may seem that Tigerair’s 12 A320 will fill the gap for exactly a year before NEO deliveries begin

Edit, thanks to Shakti Lumba: Airline’s first aircraft delivery changed to July from June, 2006. Start of operations corrected to 4th August, 2006 from 15th August.

 

SpiceJet – Impressive Performance amidst Serious Challenges

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Spice737_DELSpiceJet is a unique airline. The airline had a massive management reshuffle, and the new management is actually working hard – very hard towards turning around the airline. In a record period – of around nine months, the airline has actually effected so many changes that it is an all new SpiceJet – in terms of appeal, service, and performance indicators. Symbolically, its the phoenix of the Indian airline industry.

Load factors, one of the strongest indicators of revenue, have been consistently up in the airline from the last few months. In Q2 FY2014-15 – comprising the months July, August and September, the airline recorded the airline industry’s highest ever domestic load factor in recent history, of 85.9%. What makes this achievement more remarkable is the fact that it was achieved in a lean season. The average Q2 domestic load factor stands at 82.5% – the best performance in the last 15 quarters of SpiceJet, and the highest among all Q2s in the entire history of SpiceJet.

Yet, the Q2 results will report a loss, and profitability in Q3 is somewhat threatened.

The market stimulation, and ancillary revenues have brought SpiceJet impressive revenues, but unfortunately these revenues are overshadowed by high costs in the airline. The high cost structure at SpiceJet – higher than the other two prominent LCCs – IndiGo and Go Air, is due to funding issues. The airline, which is now finding it difficult to sustain purely on cash flows from advance sales, badly needs a fund infusion. Without a cash problem, SpiceJet can make more money, and lower costs. How? Find out about this, and more, in further detail through our analysis, by clicking here.

DGCA issues a notice on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle & Unmanned Aircraft Systems

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UAS_Begumpet_IndiaAviation_2014The DGCA has issued a public notice on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) & Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for civil applications. The public notice, which must be complied with, bans the launch of any UAS or UAV in the Indian Civil Airspace.

Such a directive has been issued in the light of potential safety issues associated with high performance UAVs interfering with flight safety. Recent sightings of ‘UFO’s by commercial airline pilots have only helped speed up such a notification.

The notice, issued on 7th October 2014, will remain in effect till the DGCA formulates regulations associated with the certification & operation of UAS in the Indian Civil Airspace, in line with what the ICAO standardizes.

Impact on Hobby Flyers

170cc_prophang_airshowSince the DGCA’s regulations concerning UAS/UAV will be in line with those of the ICAO, ICAO definitions and policies may be adopted, in large or in entirety.

ICAO Circular 328-AN/190 concerning both UAVs and UAS, states, “In the broadest sense, the introduction of UAS does not change any existing distinctions between model aircraft and aircraft. Model aircraft, generally recognized as in tended for recreational purposes only, fall outside the provisions of the Chicago Convention, being exclusively the subject of relevant national regulations, if any”.

The DGCA circular may be accessed by clicking here.

Vistara: From Singapore Airlines, Of Singapore Airlines, For Singapore Airlines

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VistaraEverything – absolutely everything in the airline has a Singapore Airlines ‘stamp’.

On 25th September, TATA-Singapore Airlines, which will operate under the brand name Vistara, publicly announced the receipt of their first aircraft, an Airbus A320-232SL that arrived from Toulouse with a tech-stop (to refuel) in the middle east. The aircraft flew in all white – without the livery of the airline. The aircraft will eventually be either stickered or painted, and the aircraft’s delay in arrival will only push the start of operations to either end October or early November, after the airline can fly the aircraft on intended routes for a series of ‘proving’ flights to satisfy the DGCA’s Civil Aviation Policy CAP3100.

From Singapore Airlines

Vistara’s first aircraft – like the other 19 aircraft that are to be received over time, are leased from BOC Aviation. BOC Aviation is 100% owned by Bank of China, one of the largest banks in the world.

BOC aviation, headquartered in Singapore, was formerly SALE – Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise, when it started operations in November 1993. When formed, SALE was a 50:50 ownership between Singapore Airlines and Boullioun Aviation Services. In the December of 2006, SALE was acquired 100% by the Bank of China (BOC) for US$965 million. In the July of 2007, it was renamed to BOC aviation, to reflect the change in ownership. With the support of BOC, BOC aviation was able to expedite its growth, from 100 planes in 2009 – over the first 16 years – to 246 owned and managed aircraft operated by 56 airlines worldwide in 2014- just five years later. BOC Aviation has another 196 aircraft on firm order, as of date.

BOC Aviation is headquartered in Singapore, and has leased airplanes to SpiceJet, and Jet Airways. Interestingly, the first ever lease to a Singapore Airline subsidiary or affiliate, although the lessor had its roots in Singapore Airlines. The 20 aircraft lease to Vistara is reportedly the largest leasing agreement in BOC Aviation’s history.

Of Singapore Airlines

TATA-SIA Airlines is a 51:49 joint venture between TATA Sons and Singapore International Airlines (SIA). SIA has invested US$ 49 Million. The TATAs, although a majority stakeholder, have no recent experience in the airline business, and the airline is expected to be pretty much run and managed by Singapore Airlines, although substantial ownership and effective control will be vested in Indian nationals. Singapore Airlines is expected to dictate how the airline will be run (executed). Vistara, a full service carrier, is expected to reflect a strong Singapore Airlines influence – at all levels of operations and perhaps even decisions.

The airline’s first aircraft was ferried from Toulouse by pilots Gopal Subramaniam and Mandhesh Singh. Gopal is Chief Pilot Line Operations, Technical & Quality at Vistara, and has joined from Singapore Airlines, where he still considers to be employed. Mandesh was flying the Airbus A330s for Singapore Airlines, and previously the A320s for SilkAir, and was part of the crew that inaugurated the direct Singapore-Coimbatore flight in 2007.

Phee Teik Yeoh, CEO of Vistara, has been with Singapore Airlines for nearly 23 years, and started his career with the airline as a Network Planning Analyst. Considering the CEO being a Singapore Airlines’ guy, and that he has held a wide spectrum of portfolios at SIA, prepping him for the role as a CEO, all management decisions and recommendations will pretty much be the way Singapore Airlines wants it.

At AirAsia India, none of the technical or managerial positions are held by any former AirAsia employees.

For Singapore Airlines

Historically, airlines which Singapore Airlines either has a stake in, or is a parent company of, have filled gaps in services of SIA. For example, routes dropped by Singapore Airlines, and later SilkAir, have been taken up by Tiger Airways. Together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, Singapore Airlines has managed an extensive network, catering to both business travellers and budget travellers. An Indian network was missing, and with Vistara, Singapore Airlines can offer its customers a near seamless experience and service – connecting them from various parts of India to its hubs at Singapore or stations in India, from where passengers can be connected to the rest of the world. With Singapore gradually losing out as a preferred global hub to the strategically located and aggressive Middle-East Asian hubs, through which a significant number of Indian passengers transit, capturing the Indian market, both directly and indirectly, is key. The Vistara strategy gains prominence in the light of the Jet – Etihad deal, which is aiding in diverting international traffic from India to the West.

Singapore’s deep involvement in the airline will bode well for Vistara – in terms of network, service, safety, and operational service metrics of on-time performance, in-flight service, and in-flight experience. Together with brand new aircraft, Vistara as a full service carrier driven by Singapore Airlines is poised to conquer the full service market over Indian skies.

‘TATA’, on the other hand, is just a name.

A quick take on Tony’s talk

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TonyOne interview – just one – of Tony (Economic Times, ‘So IndiGo, FIA want to fight? We fight!: Tony Fernandes, AirAsia chief’- Anirban Chowdhury) set Twitter on fire, with Sanjiv Kapoor (COO, SpiceJet) reacting, and Vijay Gopalan (CFO, AirAsia India) counter-reacting.

This is not about the gossip, but to make sense of the nonsense.

Tony Speaks

First, for Tony to say that he doesn’t understand ‘SpiceJet’s logic or strategy’, and that ‘the fares are unsustainable’ is a surprise. The man behind these low fares is Kaneswaran Avili, who was with AirAsia since its inception, and has also been involved with the group’s Tune Hotels and Tune Money. Kanesh drove the discounts and promo ‘sales’ at SpiceJet, and his logic is no different from AirAsia’s, but perhaps, tailored to suit to the needs of the Indian environment – and particularly SpiceJet.

Despite repeated attempts by SpiceJet to make the industry understand the too-easy-to-not-understand logic of their low fare strategy, people seem to not comprehend it. Even more surprising is the fact that AirAsia India, which claimed to sustain with the all inclusive INR 990 fares (AirAsia India CEO Mittu told TFE on June 12th: ” 990 fare for us is something that we think is sustainable”), finds SpiceJet’s ‘sale’ airfares, which are priced on average around INR 2,000, ridiculous. Or that’s what Tony thinks. Below is a snapshot of AirAsia’s low fares – far lower than SpiceJet’s. SpiceJet’s fares are almost always higher than AirAsia’s, for the same sector.

AA_faresThe Spicy logic

SpiceJet’s strategy is simple : determine those seats that will fly empty, and sell those seats at fares that more than cover the costs associated with transporting that discounted passenger. The result? The average yields for SpiceJet may have diluted, but the airline now records a higher – much high revenue per available seat kilometer (RASK). Which only means that on average, the airline realizes a larger revenue per flight, than it used to without these promotions and sales. Had these promos not been in place, SpiceJet would have bled further – in the face of increasing symptoms of overcapacity, with no guarantee of sold inventory or high yields.

What Tony must remember is that SpiceJet did not have the luxury of being run entirely by industry professionals throughout its existence. AirAsia has had that, and has carried no dirty laundry. SpiceJet’s performance today is awesome-for those who really know the figures-but appear terrible only because of the losses, penalties, interests, and other unwanted baggage from the past.

All that Kaneswaran has done is to implement an AirAsia strategy in SpiceJet, tweaked to ensure its optimisation for SpiceJet specifically. This has resulted in industry-wide highest loads for the year, high RASK, and working capital even in the face of a cash crunch and a meager investment of INR 300 Cr by Maran. Team SpiceJet is keeping the ship afloat.

The last word

It was perhaps poor research, poor understanding of SpiceJet’s strategy, or just a joke badly presented that drove Tony to be taken so seriously. Tony’s loose tongue lands everyone – including his airline – in trouble. For Tony to not understand SpiceJet is to not understand his own – Fares Kilpady (Vice President, Revenue Management at SpiceJet, and formerly at AirAsia X) and Kaneswaran, which is unfortunate.

What Tony doesn’t realize is that every time he or his team make a statement that counters a previous statement by Mittu, it only puts the young CEO in bad light.

Sanjiv came back with knee jerk reactions – unfortunately, even if his arguments were valid – which shows him being sucked into an unwanted word game he’s not cut out for. It’s proof that Sanjiv – a non resident Indian, with his family at London- is getting topicalised. The ‘foreigner’ jabs were uncalled for – Sanjiv is as much a foreigner in India, atleast as far as his career history shows. Mittu and Tony are a different breed, with a different mindset; but Sanjiv’s appeal as a classy COO may be waning.

Unlike Tony and Mittu who seem to have sufficient non-airline related time, Sanjiv has a big set of tasks: to walk the talk, turnaround an airline, and secure an investor (perhaps a ‘foreign(er)’?)

Meanwhile, the media & India will soon get used to Tony, and possibly not bother or read too much into each and every comment that he makes – which puts Mittu in bad light and leaves a bad after taste with the competition.

IndiGo: Thins seats, widens savings.

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IndiGo Seat Change

Indigo – the Indian airline known to religiously adopt best low cost carrier practices, thanks to its founders who brought with them unequalled relevant airline experience, has taken yet another step to lower costs, and in part increase passenger comfort.

IndiGo flies one aircraft type- The A320-232, with some of the newer ones featuring fuel saving wingtip modifications known as ‘Sharklets’. As of date, the A320 can seat a maximum of 180 passengers in an all-economy cabin layout. With such a configuration, all seats, with the exception of those at row 1, 12 and 13-the later two being emergency exit row seats- feature a 29 inch seat pitch.

Of the 29 inches in seat pitch, around 4 inches may be subtracted due to the thickness of the seat, leaving an effective room of about 25 inches, or 2′ 1″. For an average Indian with a height of around 171cm and a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 24, this leaves between two to three inches between the knee and the seat pocket in front. Magazine thickness in the seat pocket affects how much ‘knee’ room is finally available.

With SpiceJet talking about its latest cabin product SpiceMAX, where the first five rows of most of its Boeing 737-800 & -900 aircraft feature a generous 35 inches of seat-pitch, or about 31 inches from the backrest to the seat pocket in front – or half a foot more than IndiGo’s offering, IndiGo may have felt threatened by its inability to match such a product for its passengers. The Flying Engineer learns that the airline has recently changed its passenger seats to the Dragonfly from SICMA Aero, which manufactures and sells aircraft seats under ZODIAC Aerospace group. The airline previously flew the model ‘5600’ seats from Weber seats – the company which in 2012 became Zodiac Seats U.S. LLC, which is now a subsidiary of Zodiac Aerospace of France, and is one of the largest manufacturers of airline seats in the world.

The new ‘Dragonfly’ seats offer a double advantage and a disadvantage.

The new seats are thinner, and lighter. Thinner seats free up more legroom. The seats offer between and inch and two of extra legroom. The lighter seats shave off 700kgs from the airline’s aircraft’s operating empty weight. 700kgs on a Bangalore-Delhi sector of 1000NM translates to a saving of about 50kgs of fuel per such flight. The savings are as low as 0.6% for a short (200NM), full flight, and 0.8% for a long (1000NM), full flight, and can touch 1% when load factors are lower. With savings between 10kg and 50kg of fuel, dependant on the flight, an assumed 20kg of saving per flight, on average, translates to a saving of 3.65 million kg of fuel per year, assuming 500 daily flights. This translates to INR 34 Crore per year, with an average fuel price of INR 74.69 per litre.

The disadvantage, as reported by a recent flyer on board IndiGo, is the discomfort associated with such seats. The manufacturer describes, “With its ergonomic stamped backrest, the Dragonfly offers tremendous operational savings, fewer parts and increased cabin density – all the while adapting to finicky passengers’ growing desire for improved living space”. However, comfort isn’t stressed upon as much as the 5600’s, and the thinner cushioning has been reported as relatively uncomfortable.

Further, unlike the model 5600, the Dragonfly seats may not be IFE capable.

The seats on board IndiGo’s A320s are 18 inches wide, inner armrest to inner armrest. Airbus offers customers an option of 17 inches seat width with a 25 inch wide aisle – a configuration designed for quick turnaround times, or 18 inches seat width and a 20 inch wide aisle – a configuration designed for enhanced passenger comfort.

To be fair, the seats on SpiceJet’s 737s – as are all 737s, world over- are only 17 inches wide. Barring the first five rows of ‘SpiceMAX’ seats, and seats on the emergency exit rows, most other seats on SpiceJet’s 737s feature a 29 inches seat pitch, which offer a passenger 25 inches from the backrest to the seat pocket, and 17 inches in seat width. IndiGo’s seats, however, offer one to two inch more legroom, and one inch more seat width, catering to the ever increasing population of those with above-normal BMIs. The new seats allow the airline to offer more space uniformly across the cabin, while saving money, too.

An eye on costs is what the airline is known for: the airline has a very strict fuel policy, wherein the airline, and not the captain, decides on how much extra fuel must be uplifted. This has been possible due to a strong analysis of historical fuel data. The airline also incurs a cost of between INR 4 and 5 for every kg of potable water that is uplifted. The capacity of the potable water tank is 200 litres, but the airline monitored water consumption for every sector, and now only fills between 40 litres and 120 litres, depending on the sector. As a result, the airline saves between INR 320 and INR 640 per sector. Assuming a very conservative saving of INR 300 per sector – the airline saves, over 500 flights a day and over a year, almost INR 5.5 Cr.

Savings – possible through constant innovation, quick adoption of fuel saving technologies, constant analysis, great strategies, and strict implementation.

Thanks to Oscar Victor for certain data.

AirAsia India’s Second Aircraft

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AAI A320AAI_9M-AJFAirAsia India received its second aircraft, which landed at Hyderabad at around 13:30 IST (UTC + 5:30) on the 26th of August, 2014. The aircraft flew in from Kuala Lumpur.

The second aircraft is an A320-216SL, but not brand new like the previous aircraft. This A320, MSN 6034, was delivered on 24th March 2014 to AirAsia Malaysia, and registered 9M-AJF. The aircraft has been with AirAsia Malaysia for almost five months.

The aircraft sports the same livery as AirAsia India’s first aircraft, registered VT-ATF. The only changes to the exterior will be the replacement of the Malaysian flag with the Indian flag, and a change of registration from 9M- to VT-. The registration is expected to be VT-ATB.

TweetThe Flying Engineer had, on 19th August, guessed 9M-AJF as one of two aircraft to likely join the AirAsia India fleet.

The second aircraft is almost as new as the first aircraft. With AirAsia Malaysia contracting its operations, many of its aircraft are underutilized, enabling the parent airline to offload one aircraft to its Indian associate.

With the second aircraft joining the fleet, AirAsia India will fly an additional pattern September 5th onwards. The pattern will include flights to Goa, Chandigarh, and Jaipur from Bangalore.

AirAsia India was to have launched the virgin Bangalore-Chandigarh route. IndiGo, however, stole that opportunity from AirAsia India, by introducing a Bangalore-Chandigarh service September 1st onwards.

Roping in Air Traffic Controllers to help you save fuel, better OTP, and improve safety.

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ATC twr 2The communication between air traffic controllers and pilots is key to efficiency and safety in the air traffic system (ATS). Air Traffic Control Officers (ATCOs) are looked upon as managers : managing the flow of air traffic, and relaying crisp, and necessary messages to pilots.

Effective management is only possible when there is a deep understanding of the technicalities of the lower levels. A manager is always at a ‘higher level’, and decisions are based on a ‘lower levels’ of understanding. Effective management of air traffic is possible only when an ATCO understands, and not just communicates to, a pilot.

Accidents in the past have been due to gaps in understanding between ATCOs and pilots. Fuel burn and on time performance (OTP) are heavily dependent on the decisions taken by an ATCO. Once ATCOs understand aircraft, and aircraft performance, and fuel burn for every extra nautical mile and minute they make airplanes fly, things fall better in place: airline economics, better airport efficiency, and enhanced flight safety.

Read here the steps taken to close the gap between pilots and ATCOs- Jump-seating in scheduled airlines on select routes, by way of Familiarization Flights, which airlines must arrange for.

Could SpiceJet spring a surprise with its Q1 Results?

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Triple_SGIt is widely believed in the industry that SpiceJet may post a Q1 loss. Some were convinced, based on personal estimates. Others heard whispers. But, there could be some hope. The Flying Engineer redoes some numbers to show how SpiceJet could (but not a guarantee that it will-this is purely an academic exercise) spring a surprise on a nation that is so used to seeing the red airline in the red.

The turning point

The airline started steering a different course with Chief Operating Officer Sanjiv Kapoor: the classy man heading SpiceJet at the operational front. The bigger turning point was when he restructured his top management, and bringing on board the new Chief Commercial Officer Kaneshwaran Avili, who is ex-AirAsia and ex-Tiger. To some of us who watch the industry, we are in absolute awe of Avili, not only for what he’s done, but for what he’s doing. There were other posts that got a fresh nameplate, but the biggest changes are the COO and the CCO.

Sanjiv, with his legacy experience, is all set to change the brand (image and offering) of SpiceJet, positioning itself as not a low cost carrier but a classy low cost carrier that caters, however limited, to the business crowd. Not surprising, as corporate flyers make most of SpiceJet’s bread and butter.

Avili, on the other hand, is keen on aligning the low cost carrier with global best practices for such airlines.

In short, Sanjiv caters to the first few rows of the aircraft, while Avili tries to work with the later rows in the cabin.

A great combination, in our humble opinion.

Results

You could have the best team, but in the end, all that ever matters are results. This is where the optimists and the pessimists are divided. For one, media reports (and verified true) of employees not receiving their form 16 from the airline is making most wonder if the airline has only sunk deeper, exhibiting the symptoms that plagued Kingfisher just before its downfall. These are the whisper driven crowd.

The optimists-some of whom (and who are just a handful) have reason to believe that the airline’s results – numbers – may have a different story to say, and maybe even spring a surprise on everyone.

To the numbers we March.

Load Factors

Passenger Load Factor TrendlineBeyond March-and before July make up the first quarter of the financial year. As shown in a previous analysis of SpiceJet by The Flying Engineer, there is a strong correlation between the passenger load factors and operational profits. April was a disappointing month for Spicejet (and few others), with domestic load factors that slumped compared to the previous year-for all carriers except Jet Airways and its low cost arm JetLite. In May, SpiceJet recorded and increase, and in June, displayed the best load factor increase performance, while IndiGo has been the only carrier to be in the negative for all three months of Q1.

Overall Market Demand

The second month of Q1-May-is typically the peak season for domestic travel. Yet, all carriers except Jet, Jet Lite, and SpiceJet reported a drop in load factors. Was there a slump in the demand for travel?

Year on Year (YoY), the Q1 of FY2014-15 recorded a 7% growth in domestic passenger traffic, while international recorded a 10% growth in traffic. Air Costa has grabbed less than 1% of market share, making us disregard the airline as a contributor to capacity increase. Overall, among the legacy full service and LCC carriers, capacity has increased far greater than demand, leading to low load factors.

But SpiceJet has done the opposite of IndiGo-it has slashed capacity in terms of seats, and ASKs. By pulling out six aircraft from its fleet, and with one Q400 temporarily grounded, it has deployed lesser capacity, but has managed an interesting result.

Efficiency of Commercial & Operations

Revenue and Cost Area changesSpiceJet’s fleet has shrunk from Q1 FY13 – sending off 2 Boeing 737s, and preparing six to be sent back to their lessors: 2 scheduled, and four early return, while adding 5 new 737 aircraft, including the latest 737- the infamous ‘Red Chilli’ with a special livery. Compared to Q1 FY13 SpiceJet seems to have had 3 more airplanes on its books, but three less operational aircraft (as six were being prepared for return). One Q400 may have been down for a fairly long period.

While the available fleet has shrunk, very interestingly, SpiceJet has performed positively with respect to a YoY growth when it comes to domestic passengers and cargo carried. These are sources of revenue. It has also shown a negative growth as far as flights, seat capacity, and available seat-kilometers are concerned. These three are sources of costs, which means the costs have reduced. These are numbers from the airline.

Overall, revenue indicators have grown, while cost indicators have shrunk. This can only mean one thing as far as direct operations are concerned: profits. And a similar encouraging trend is also seen in its international operations, which are just 10% of the airline’s overall deployed capacity (ASK). There, the fall in the number of passengers is small compared to the reduction in international ASK.

Overall, in Q1 FY14, SpiceJet flew just 23,400 passengers lesser than Q1 FY13, or just 0.7% lower. Which is impressive, in the face of a much higher airline capacity reduction.

Cargo carried in Q1 FY14 is much higher than Q1 FY13, showing an increase of 10%, or 1,868 tonnes extra.

Ticket Sales & Promos

SG_OffersOf those direct operation figures, as far as passengers are concerned, some seats are low yield seats, as these were promo seats sold across five sale campaigns: ‘Super Summer Sale’, ‘Super Holi Sale’, and three ‘Fly New Network’ promos.

The Summer sale was more an early sales drive, not exactly a ‘sale’. The ‘Super Holi Sale’ offered INR 1,999 tickets in Q4 FY13 for travel mid June onward (bookings 90 days in advance) – or just 1/6th of Q1-in June. Three ‘Fly New Network’ sales in Q1 FY14 were for flights in June, July and August, of which two were for travel only in 2/9th of Q1-in June. Since April and May are peak domestic travel seasons, no significantly low ‘promo’ seats were offered in those two months. Which means that the higher load factors in the month of May are largely a result of normal sales.

But in June, SpiceJet recorded incredible domestic load factors, making it the second highest (after Go Air), allowing the red airline to lead IndiGo in occupancy. Compared to Q1 FY13, the June domestic load factor in Q1 FY14 rose by 8.1% – or 107,466 passengers. If we assume all these passengers paid around INR 1,999, which means the airline took home a minimum of INR 1,500 (After UDF and ST), then the airline’s average yield (domestic) may have fallen by around INR 120, assuming an average passenger yield of INR 5,000 for regular sales. If one is to disregard the 10-lakh seats SpiceJet offered at INR 2013, which included travel in April 2013, then the promos in 2014 may have translated to a passenger revenue reduction of INR 37Cr, compared to Q1 FY13.

This does not mean the airline is losing money because of promo sales. Had these promos not been in place, the airline may have flown lesser passengers, taking a larger hit on its direct passenger revenue through lower sales and lesser stimulation. IndiGo, for instance, carried 687,000 more passengers in Q1 FY14 compared to last year, but added 1.24 million seats, leading to seat capacity deployment that was beyond demand.  But considering SpiceJet has managed to fly more passengers with lesser capacity, probably in part because of the changes within the airline- new service, better cleanliness, better service, improved frequency, better timings, and better on-time-performance, the airline may not have sold as many promo tickets as estimated, but probably sold more regular fare tickets, bettering the 37Cr estimate.

In addition, SpiceJet held 11 sales campaigns in Q1 FY- thanks to Avili who took over the role of CCO in Q1 FY14- of which all included flights in Q2 Fy14, and only three included few flights in Q1 FY14 (The Fly New Network sales). Since statistically, demand in Q2 of any FY is weaker, more seats were up for sales. With an approximate 3.75 million seats flown (offered) in each quarter, and conservatively assuming 10% of it was up for promo sales, more than 500,000 tickets may have been sold at an average price of INR 1,777, leading to an additional revenue of INR 100 Crore.

That 100CR sales were for tickets that need to be serviced in Q2 FY14 and beyond. This only means that the airline has sold more tickets than it has serviced in Q1 FY14, leading to more revenues from operations, while not incurring the costs associated with servicing those ticket sales.

With the flash sales triggering a market stimulation, approximately INR 10-50 Crore or more worth tickets may have been sold purely through stimulation.

Pushing the Demand Season

LF SG vs 6EThe flash sales have had two effects: shoring up capital, and destroying the notion of a season, proving that seasons are in the hands of the airline. June, which was to have been the onset of the off-season for domestic air travel, has recorded the best load factors, making it a lucrative month, and carrying fuller airplanes (on domestic) than IndiGo in the June of Q1 FY13.

The advent of Ancillaries

Part of SpiceJet’s rebranding was the commercial interest involved with the introduction of preferred seats (where passengers may pay higher for ‘Max’ seats which are the first few and emergency exit seats which either offer better legroom or promise faster boarding and deplaning), and the hot meals with TAJ SATS and CCD. The ancillaries from these introductions are pronounced in June 2014, as the hot meals were introduced towards the end of May of 2014. With these introductions, and the higher number of passengers flown, SpiceJet could have realized higher in-flight ancillary revenue in Q1 FY14 compared to Q1 FY13.

Financial Summary

P&L statementFor the Q1 of FY13, SpiceJet reported a profit of INR 50 Crores. One of the largest disproportionate expenses for the airline, in FY13, was maintenance: INR 993Cr, most of which was contributed to in H1 FY13. Over quarters, the maintenance cost averages to INR 250Cr. In Q1 FY13, the maintenance cost was INR 200 Cr. If the maintenance costs prevail, due to activities associated with aircraft being configured to lessor-return conditions, then compared to Q1 FY13, the maintenance cost overrun is INR 50Cr.

Although six Boeing 737s were withdrawn from operations, there were three extra 737s on the books, compared to Q1 FY13, which together add about INR 12Cr in lease over the three months, over Q1 FY13.

Compared to Q1 FY13, fuel prices in Q1 FY14 have risen by an average 10%, while ASKs have fallen by about 7%, resulting in a net fuel price increase of INR 17Cr.

Overall, flights in Q1 FY14 have fallen to 95% of that in Q1 FY13, resulting in airport charges reducing by about INR 5 Cr.

Flight crew salary hikes were not effected in Q1 FY14.

Cargo carried has gone up by 10% in Q1 FY14, contributing to INR 4 Cr of revenues over and above that in Q1 FY3.

Passengers in Q1 FY14 have dipped by 23,400 when compared to Q1 FY13. Assuming these passengers could have been regular fare paying passengers, the airline may have lost INR 11Cr. In addition, due to the promo fares, the airline may have lost INR 37Cr in the form of average yield reduction.

The lesser flights but higher passengers and cargo per flight translate to an average 500kg increase in payload, per flight, which introduces an average 0.65% fuel burn penalty, which translates to INR 5 Cr.

However, the airline may have shored up to around INR 150Cr from the sales in Q1 for services in Q2, and the market stimulation drive. With this, the airline may report a two digit profit (though we’d love to see three), and a single digit profit or a very modest and negligible loss, at worst. It must be noted that proceeds due to ancillaries haven’t been considered, which will increase profits. These profit/loss projects are very approximate, conservative, and willfully skip few other factors that influence cost, and may not hold true in case the airline paid off certain dues from previous quarters (if such rumors of unpaid dues are true)  in Q1 FY14, in which case the airline may slip into losses against the above projection.

If the company’s declared results are as analysed above, SpiceJet is on its way to a positive transformation. With all it’s heart.

Air Pegasus gets real, for real

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ATR72500Since 2011, Air Pegasus has been in the news. The coverage has damaged the airline’s reputation- the managing director talked of starting operations twice, and both timelines were missed with not a single aircraft in India that was to operate under the Pegasus brand.

The airline was granted its NOC late 2011, and since then renewed twice. Most, including the DGCA, haven’t taken Air Pegasus seriously. They’d written it off as another airline that will not take to the skies.

But all that has changed. The MD and CEO of the airline, Mr. Shyson Thomas, firmly believes its his last renewal of the NOC, for he is confident of getting his AOP in September. This time around though, it’s for real.

The airline will today (Monday, 4th August) sign on the dotted line a letter of intent with a lessor, who will supply the Bangalore based Air Pegasus Private Limited two eight-and-a-half year old ATR 72-500 aircraft. The airline has two expat pilots on its rolls, one of whom landed in Bangalore in the wee hours of Saturday morning from Athens, Greece, to attend an Aviation Security (AV-SEC) training. There are six Indian captains, and eleven first officers ready to fly the first two aircraft, and twenty all-female cabin crew ready to man it.

For the first time in the history of the yet-to-become airline, lessors have reportedly been sending the airline emails, rather than the other way around. There seems to be confidence from overseas, from the likes of people who have burnt their fingers leasing aircraft to Paramount and Kingfisher. It is too early to see pictures of an ATR in the airline’s paint scheme, but once the signatures are done, two ex-Kingfisher/Deccan aircraft will be ready to start another chapter in the history of Indian aviation: an all ATR, pure-regional airline based out of Bangalore, to cater specifically to the south- a region attractive for it includes three Tier I cities and many promising, and economically important Tier II cities.

Shyson Thomas speaks exclusively to The Flying Engineer, in his most detailed interview till date. With 102 questions, and answers, learn about the airline, and the aircraft-from his viewpoint, and about the man at the controls in this Interlysis with Shyson Thomas – Air Pegasus, Unplugged. CLICK HERE to dive into the depths of the airline.

AirAsia India flies North & opens virgin routes effective September

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VT_ATF_Approach_BIAL_11th_June_2014

AirAsia India announced its plans to operate to the north, connecting Bangalore with Chandigarh and Jaipur effective September 5th, 2014. The new routes, and an additional frequency on the Goa-Bangalore vv sector will be supported with a fleet of two aircraft.

The second aircraft for AirAsia India is expected to be delivered in the month of August. The plan to fly to the north with the arrival of the second aircraft is in line with Mittu Chandilya’s-CEO AirAsia India-statements on June 12th when AirAsia India started its commercial operations.

Playing on Costa’s Turf

Air Costa, the Vijayawada based regional airline poised to ‘soon’ fly pan India, plays the game of Tier I – Tier II / Tier III connectivity. The airline does not yet fly intra Tier II or Tier III city routes, and does not yet serve Tier III cities.

AirAsia India plays the Air Costa game: The only Tier I city it flies to, out of Bangalore, is Chennai. The other cities on its schedule effective September 5th – Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kochi, Goa- are all Tier II.

With just its second aircraft, AirAsia India will start flying to the north, and tap a fairly neglected route – Bangalore-Jaipur, and open a virgin route- Bangalore-Chandigarh. Bangalore-Chandigarh was on the cards of Air Costa, but the startup regional airline has had to grapple with too many domestic issues to lend it the speed to expand. The only route flown by Air Costa, not served by others, is the Hyderabad-Jaipur non-stop.

But then Air Costa does something that AirAsia doesn’t believe in: it flies three way routes: one variant of a point-to-point network strategy. For example, Air Costa flies Bangalore-Jaipur-Hyderabad: not an immediate return. According to Mittu, “point-to-point means you start from one place, you go to one, and you come back and park the plane. We don’t do three way exotic routes and none of that.”

 AirAsia is appearing less of a threat to IndiGo and more to Air Costa, though the two new players have two different aircraft, which makes a direct competition and comparison impossible.

If AirAsia India has well researched its potential Bangalore-Chandigarh traffic, then the airline will stand to reap the benefits of route monopoly. If however the airline doesn’t really fetch the traffic it needs, it would have stimulated the market, allowing Air Costa to then jump in and reap the benefits with a smaller airplane that will cater to a lower demand.

But if the market proves to be really strong, it will attract IndiGo and Air Costa on this virgin route.

On the Jaipur sector, the only other airlines to offer a direct service are Air Costa and Indigo. AirAsia’s departure to Jaipur is timed 35 minutes before Air Costa’s, and leaves Jaipur at 12:45hrs to return to Banaglore. Air Costa however doesn’t fly the return, allowing AirAsia India to tap a noon slot. Air Costa and IndiGo fly Jaipur-Bangalore only in the evening and later evening, respectively.

In essence, AirAsia India has placed itself between Indigo and Air Costa, being a true competitor to neither airline, while easily competing in some form and fashion with either airline on a per route basis.

Not SpiceJet’s cup of ‘tea, coffee, or me’

SpiceJet doesn’t offer any flights from Bangalore to Jaipur, or the return. The only possible all-SpiceJet route, not offered by the airline, is a two stop hop via Hyderabad and Delhi, which is least attractive. This is the fallout of poor frequency, even on the mainlines, effectively negating the network spread achieved by the airline’s dual fleet of Q400s and 737NGs.

On the Chandigarh front, SpiceJet’s least-total duration connection via Delhi makes the journey 5:10hr long, just 15 minutes longer than IndiGo’s connection via Delhi. The direct flight offered by AirAsia is just 2:55hr long.

Increased aircraft Utilization over longer sectors.

aai_pattern_2

AirAsia India, with its single aircraft, will fly a pattern effective 14th August 2014 that will see 10 flights of an average block time of 1 hour each pick up a total of 10:15hours over 10 flights, with a utilisation efficiency of 69%. The utilisation can touch 12:35 hrs if the airline flies two 1:10hr sectors in the 3:50hr period the aircarft stay’s on ground at Bangalore, as analyzed in this piece.

A second pattern effective September 5th 2014, when the second aircraft joins the fleet, will comprise of six flights, each with an average flight time of 2:14hrs, resulting in an aircraft utilization of 13:25hrs, with a utilization efficiency of 85%. The higher efficiency is due to the longer flights of Bangalore-Jaipur and return, and Bangalore-Chandigarh and return.

The airline hopes to, and will be able to, manage a 25 minute turnaround at Jaipur and Chandigarh. However, the 25 minutes planned at Bangalore in the first pattern seems surprising, as analyzed previously.

Based on the pattern timings, the second aircraft is likely to arrive towards end August. The airline plans to receive one airplane a month thereafter.

Apparently, Mittu said during yesterday’s Chennai press conference that the airline will induct as many airplanes as required to serve as many routes as possible till there are no route combinations left to fly.

Strong local and P2P focus

If anyone should be happy, it must be Subramanian Swamy. AirAsia’s network will open up routes that will benefit the economy, while as of today, not truly stepping on the toes of another airline. Today, there seems to be no efforts taken by AirAsia India to plan its network so as to feed traffic into its sister subsidiaries of AirAisa Malaysia or Thai AirAsia.

With routes that fly direct from one region to another, AirAsia India also seems to have a ‘regional’ focus, and by diverting traffic this way, can help de-congest airports like Delhi, which has to handle a significant number of transit passengers today.

With the two patterns, AirAsia India will add the capacity to cater to 1 million passengers, annually. As more airplanes come in, and the network and frequency grow, this number will only rise. With an average load factor across all flights today estimated at a realistic 80-85%, the airline will contribute to 800,000-850,000 passenger movements at Bangalore, annually, based on September’s patterns. This may serve to develop Bangalore as a prominent, and possibly a preferred hub and gateway in/to South India.

AirAsia India: Aircraft utilisation crosses 10 hours with double daily Kochi, Hyderabad next?

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ATF_parked_KIA

  • Double daily to Kochi: Aircraft utilisation crosses 10 hours per day (Aug 14th onward).
  • Hyderabad seems like the next logical destination.
  • Airline touches 25 minute turn around, timing though is baffling.

VTATF revised utilisationAirAsia India announced the double daily to Kochi today with minimal publicity. The double daily is effective August 14th onward, and that is when the airline’s single aircraft, an A320 registered VT-ATF, will cross 10:00hrs of daily aircraft utilisation. When that happens, the average turnaround time will settle at 30 minutes, and the average block time of each flight will hover around 1 hour.

The airline is yet to utilise the aircraft in the period between 11:20hrs and 15:10hrs: when the aircraft is on ground for almost 4 hours. Disregarding this time on ground, the aircraft’s present utilisation efficiency (total block hours against total time the airplane is used for operations) touches 69%. This number will increase if the aircraft is used on longer sectors, when the airplane spends more time in air.

If the other flights in this pattern are to remain, then the aircraft can operate two 1:10hr block hour sectors in that near 4 hour period on ground.

Map_AAI_1_10hrsA 1:10hr block flight (see the green range circle in the adjacent map) is possible if the airline flies to one of the following cities: Vijayawada, Hyderabad, Belgaum or Hubli. Hubli’s airport runway is 5,500ft long, and can just meet the runway requirements for the A320. Alternately, the airline can fly sub-1:10 sectors, which include Madurai, Coimbatore, and Mangalore.

Another interesting point is the timings of AirAsia India’s flights. For its Tier II destinations, AirAsia India’s flights do not compete with the competition. For example, between 12:30 and 13:00, there are three departures to Goa, operated by Indigo, SpiceJet, and Jet Airways, what may be considered the “peak” time for departures to the holiday destination Goa from Bangalore. AirAsia India however fills a wide gap, as seen in the graph for the period wise departures to Goa. As for Kochi, the airline operates flights at times that are not served by other airlines, ensuring a comfortable day return for business passengers to Kochi.

AAI Departures out of Bangalore to Souther DESTWhen it comes to the only Tier I city it serves out of Bangalore- Chennai-AirAsia India’s flights do not really fill a gap, but are timed to somewhat coincide with the “peak” timings-beating the early morning IndiGo flight by 20 minutes (and moved in the graph to the 5-6 slot for purposes of clarity although the departure is at 6:05hrs) and positioning itself well to offer another departure just before other airlines offer a string of departures in every time period between 19:00 and 23:00hrs.

Loads, however, on the early morning Bangalore-Chennai vv run aren’t as great as the Goa loads, hovering at 65-70% only.

It will only be prudent for an airline to now tap another relatively denser route. AirAsia India’s aircraft is on ground between 11:20hrs and 15:10hrs. With 30 minute turnarounds, the airline can operate a 11:50 departure to a destination to which the block time is 1:10, and operate the return at 13:30 from that destination.

Of the four cities that are a block hour 1:10hrs away, Hyderabad seems lucrative as it is a Tier I route. Interestingly, a departure at 11:50 will coincide with the period which appears to be favourable for departures to Hyderabad. Between 10:00hrs and 13:00hrs, there are five departures to Hyderabad from Bangalore. No other period is as dense.

With this analysis, Hyderabad appears to be a good destination to fly to. Vijayawada, Hubli, and Belgaum may not have the loads for economically viable 180 seat airplane operations; such destinations are presently serviced by SpiceJet’s 78 seat Bombardier Q400s and AirCosta’s 67 seat Embraer E170.

If Hyderabad ‘happens’, the airline’s sole aircraft’s utilisation will touch 12:35hrs: a very impressive figure considering Air Costa plans a maximum of 11:25hrs utilisation on its E170s, with 1 hour sectors (just like AirAsia’s sectors today) even with a 20 minute turn around. AirAsia manages this by starting operations one hour earlier and stopping two-and-a-half hours after Air Costa’s.

Interesting Turnaround targets: Touching the holy 25 minute

AAI_KIA_Traffic_MovementThe pattern for their single aircraft reveal some interesting data. At Cochin and Bangalore, the airline targets a 25-minute turnaround at Bangalore and Cochin between the Chennai and Cochin flights, and the Bangalore and Cochin flights. These are the only two turnarounds that are in line with AirAsia Group’s target of 25 minutes for domestic flights. Interestingly, the 25 minute turnaround at Bangalore is planned between 8:30AM IST – 8:55AM IST: the peak period for aircraft movements at the airport, when chances for delays due to congestion are higher (look at the Bangalore airport traffic density in the graph on the right).

To facilitate a faster turnaround, AirAsia uses the aerobridges between flights: passengers are encouraged to deplane from the front (aerobridge) and the rear (stairs and then apron busses), while boarding is completed via the front entry only.

To be able to consistently meet a very short turnaround target of 25 minutes, AirAsia must resort to a method of queuing passengers in the order of last seat first in, to allow the cabin to settle faster. The practicality of such an implementation is another matter of discussion.

IndiGo may lease airplanes on short term from Tiger Airways

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6E_Ramp_320_BIAL

It has been learnt that IndiGo may be flying TigerAir’s Airbus A320 aircraft on a ‘short term lease’.

The move gains prominence in the light of four developments: IndiGo’s original 100 airplane order will be completed in the December of 2014, new competition from TATA-SIA and AirAsia India has made IndiGo upward revise its expansion plans, IndiGo has now extended the lease of its airplanes to 10 years from the previously financially viable six years, and Tigerair Mandala ceased operations on 1st July 2014.

IndiGo had ordered 100 Airbus A320 aircraft in the June of 2005. With the 100 airplane order completing in the December of 2014, the 180 airplane order placed in June 2011 kicks in, which comprises 150 A320 new engine option (NEO) and 30 A320 classic engine option (CEO).

With IndiGo inducting 19 A320s in 2012 and 17 A320s in 2013, the 30 aircraft which are part of the new order may be inducted into the fleet by the third quarter of the calendar year 2016, perfectly timed to coincide with the A320 NEOs for the airline. Initial production rate of the A320NEOs will be low as it will share the line with the existing A320s. The A320NEO’s expected entry into service (EIS) is early 2016.

While this was the plan for IndiGo, it seems like the competition has messed them up. To retain market share and maintain an edge, the airline is possibly looking to scale up operations, considering the new routes that are being added, and the fact that the airline is trying to keep its airplanes in its fleet longer, through a lease extension.

To support its expansion plans, IndiGo has been inducting at least one aircraft every month, with as many as four in a month. However (and surprisingly), for unclear reasons, the airline has not inducted any aircraft in the months of May and June. VT-IAP, the yet to be delivered A320, may likely be inducted in August. This will take the fleet size to 79 aircraft, and will be the 95th aircraft from the 100 airplane order., leaving five airplanes to be delivered across the five months August-December.

With the Delhi based TATA-SIA expecting to start operations in September, and the Bangalore based AirAsia India expecting to receive its second and third aircraft late July or early August, and the airline mulling flying to the north soon, IndiGo may be looking to expand to stay ahead, by leveraging the economies of scale.

On July 1st, 2014, Indonesia’s Tigerair Mandala ceased operations. This is the second time ‘Mandala‘ as an airline has ceased operations, and this time it was after Citilink and AirAsia refused to acquire the airline. This has placed nine Airbus A320 aircraft from the airline into storage at Kuala Lumpur, which means nine A320s are available for grabs. The Flying Engineer believes that some of these A320s may make their way to IndiGo under a ‘short term lease’.

Inducting Tigerair Mandala’s A320s into the fleet won’t be an engineering hassle for the airline as these aircraft are also powered by the IAEV2527-A5 engines: the same ones that power the A320s at IndiGo. The cabins are laid out in a dense economy configuration of 180 seats, similar to IndiGo’s. None of the aircraft have the fuel saving ‘sharklets‘.

While this may seem like IndiGo’s knee-jerk reaction to opportunities and market dynamics and competition, it must also be noted that such measures are adding a degree of ‘stickiness’ to IndiGo’s otherwise well planned operations. The airline’s older aircraft, especially some above the age of six years, are starting to appear dirty on the outside-the fuselages of those airplanes are no longer fully white. IndiGo had in the past taken care to ensure its airplanes were clean.

If the Tigerair lease materialises, then it will be the first time in IndiGo’s history that the airline will operate aircraft previously used by another airline, and for the first time will fly airplanes that were previously used.

Thanks to Oscar Victor.