SpiceJet: Out of excuses

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737 SpiceJet

SpiceJet had a great opportunity to report profits in Q3’15 (the quarter ending December 31st, 2014). It didn’t. Before the quarter could conclude, the airline had stalled.

Then there was a stall-recovery. The Marans got out and Ajay Singh got in. The very next quarter, Q4’15, saw the airline posting a net profit thanks to an insurance claim from a Q400 that was written off at Hubli.

Legacy issues, one time costs, redelivery expenses, economic slowdown, high dollar rates, and high fuel prices were some of the reasons given in the past. This time around, the situation is much better. Ajay is doing a good job renegotiating contracts in manners that benefit the airline.

For the quarter ending June 30th 2015, we estimate the financial performance of the airline. Profit? Loss? Click here to read all about it.

SpiceJet’s Q400s: The Gap Fillers

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Q400_SG

SpiceJet introduced the Q400s in 2011 as a game changer. The move was not in line with what low cost carriers world over had practiced. After Air Deccan, SpiceJet became the second low cost carrier (which we prefer to call low fare carrier) in India to adopt a dual fleet strategy.

The reasoning was simple enough. First, India is a country where certain routes are saturated while many routes with potential are unexplored. This is largely due to the misconception of a ‘one aircraft fits all’ strategy. Having an oversized airplane (in terms of seats) fly on routes that have insufficient demand only leads to poor control on pricing and revenue management. The hope that some routes will eventually grow to cater to the large jet is unwise. The right sized airplane matters. Second, blindly copying and pasting to India a low cost model that worked wonders overseas is again unwise. Every market is unique, and requires its own study.

But perhaps, SpiceJet wasn’t ready to handle the Q400. Perhaps, SpiceJet did not pull off a good deal with Bombardier. Perhaps, SpiceJet’s study was half baked. Perhaps, SpiceJet was short sighted and the turboprop may have performed better in the hands of a smarter, shrewder operator. But most importantly, perhaps the Q400 fleet and staff were meted with a step-motherly treatment.

Optimisations in the Q400 fleet are only now becoming visible. Ajay Singh is using pressure tactics to squeeze Bombardier to give the airline more. A few Q400s are expected to join the fleet, with the insurance payoff from the Q400 that was written off in a runway excursion at Hubli. The Q400 fleet size reduced to 14 Q400s from 15, and one Q400 that was cannibalised has now been restored and is apparently due for a maintenance test flight. The airline has also started to optimally fly its airplanes, to realise fuel savings and time savings. Time saved can accumulate to fly an additional sector. The airline is also working to better integrate the Q400 network with its Boeing network. After all, the Q400s are intended to primarily serve as feeders. Salaries of the Q400 flight crew have been brought on par with those on the Boeings.

The airline, four years late, has realised that the Q400 cannot play the ATR game. The Q400 must play the Q400 game. The turboprop has been designed to cater to routes that are as thin as the ATR’s, but longer than what the ATR s suited to fly. And that the USP of the Q400 is its speed.

The difference between the games of the Q400s and ATR72s? The Q400 focuses on maximising revenue potential, while the ATR72 focuses on minimising costs. Those aren’t the same variety of apples to compare.

Simply put, the management wasn’t ready for the Q400.

The Q400s, today

Q400 Route MapAs of today, 13 of the 14 Q400s in the airline’s fleet are active, with the 14th expected to join soon. Effective 16th July, these 13 Q400s will operate 116 flights a day, operating for a total of 149:20 hours each day, and deploying a capacity of 9048 seats on the network, daily.

Each Q400 flies on average almost 9 flights a day, and is utilised to just a minute short of 11:30 hrs per day, per aircraft. A year ago, the utilisation was at 10:20 hrs.

Of the 116 departures, the airline flies 76 routes (where the onward and the return are treated separately) between 38 city pairs. This is on average a frequency of 1.5 on each route. The Q400s serve 28 destinations, resulting in an average of 1.3 city pairs from each destination.

Of the 38 city pairs, 10 are monopoly sectors. Of the 38 city pairs, 34 are exclusively operated by the Q400s by SpiceJet. Of the 28 destinations, 15 are exclusively Q400 destinations. Refer the diagram below.

Q400_numbers_flowThe Q400 flies the longest turboprop sector in India, between Jabalpur and Mumbai. Sectors like this are what the Q400 are better suited for: longer than those of an ATR, shorter than those suited for a jet. Monopoly sectors are in yellow. Nearly 90% of the city pairs are exclusively operated by the Q400 at SpiceJet.

Q400_flight_distancesBlock times for the sectors do not necessarily match the distances. The sector block times, for the same sectors in the same order, are graphed below:

Q400_ Block_TimeThe most important stations for SpiceJet’s Q400s are, in order of departures, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi and Bangalore. Bangalore, despite being a hub, is not a base for the Q400s.

Jabalpur is important to the airline. Q400s from Delhi are swapped with the Q400s from Hyderabad at Jabalpur, necessary for maintenance which is at Hyderabad. Q400s from Chennai swap with the Q400s at Hyderabad through the Goa flights.

53% of the stations served by the Q400 are exclusive Q400 stations for SpiceJet.

Q400_stationsOf the above stations, Belgaum and Tuticorin are exclusively served by SpiceJet, and operated to by the Q400s. Belgaum and Tuticorin are examples of airports that are either operationally unfeasible or commercially unviable to operate using a 180 seat jet aircraft. Most of the Q400 sectors listed here are commercially unviable for a 180 seat jet (the market isn’t yet sufficiently big), and atleast 40% of the sectors are not advisable to deploy a jet on, due to short sector lengths.

Typically, a regional jet with similar seats offers better operating economics and greater productivity when sector distances exceed 250 – 300NM. Average sector length for SpiceJet’s Q400s is 260NM, which speaks well about the way in which the asset is being used. 53% of the 38 sectors are below the average of 260NM, and 74% of the 38 sectors are below 300NM.

Flying the Q400 faster to save fuel?

The Q400 can be flown in one of four speed schedules – Long Range Cruise (LRC), High Speed Cruise (HSC), Intermediate Cruise Speed (ISC – between HSC & LRC), and Maximum Cruise rating (MCR). When arranged in order of increasing speeds, this is LRC-ISC-HSC-MCR.

SAR_Q400

Among 16 techniques in which an operator may realise fuel savings, optimisation of cruise speeds realises the largest potential gain. The Specific Air Range (SAR) curve below shows the distance travelled per pound of fuel. Higher the SAR, the longer the distance that the Q400 can cover for the same quantity of fuel.

While LRC (red line) would be the choice of speed for any operator who considers only fuel costs, SpiceJet used to operate its aircraft at ISC (purple line). This burnt more fuel, but saved time, which results in reduced time-related costs, and higher productivity.

Of late, SpiceJet has been flying its Q400s at HSC, for flights of around 1 hr in flight time (not block time). This translates to flights of sector distances of 300NM and below, which are 74% of all sectors flown by the Q400s at SpiceJet. Flying at HSC should, according to tables, burn more fuel, but pilots do report savings of around 150Kgs of fuel per sector. 150Kgs of fuel saved is around 14% of the trip fuel for a one hour flight time sector, which is a significant amount.

Such high fuel saving percentages with an increase in speed is not possible. The only explanation could be a host of other procedures that have been implemented that impact the overall fuel consumption. Better routing to take advantage of winds can have significant impact on fuel burns. Optimisation of weights, climb and descent profiles, improvised taxi procedures and approaches, use of detailed performance tables, and better APU management are some of the ways which fuel burn can be reduced.

Conclusion

The Q400 is an aircraft that must be used as a high speed aircraft that serves as a compromise between jet-like speeds and turboprop economy. Pushing the airplane to perform to either extreme is a significant deviation from the intended purpose of the aircraft, which leads to inappropriate and poor asset utilization.

Asset utilization seems to be on the increase. The Q400 is deployed on those routes on which a 180 seat jet cannot operate, thereby allowing SpiceJet to grow its roots into untapped markets to feed traffic to the mainline network. It is a gap filler. With more flights a day, the aircraft is being flown to its revenue generating potential. The networks of the two fleets – jet and turboprop are being aligned to cater to a hub and spoke model. However, a good narrow-body jet fleet size is required to allow the airline to make the most of the connectivity offered by its turboprop fleet.

Flyeasy: Soon-to-be the 10th operational private airline in India

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E190_flyeasy

2015 is turning out to be the third boom in Indian civil aviation. The first was around 1995, when the sole aim was to start airlines. The second boom was in and around 2005 (ten years later), when low cost carriers were a fad. The third boom that hovers around 2015 (ten years after 2005), seems to be the birth of disruptive airlines. AirAsia India, Vistara, and a slew of regionals : Air Costa, Air Pegasus, Trujet, and Flyeasy.

Mainline routes have saturated. The 180 seat jet has been used, and perhaps, abused. Many markets are still too small to have either a 180 seat jet deployed, or too long in distance to be flown by a turboprop. Turboprops cater to short and thin routes, while regional jets, such as the Embraer E-jets, Mitsubishi MRJ, the Bombardier CRJ series and the CSeries cater to long and thin routes. 180 seat single aisle jets are best suited to long and denser routes.

With the saturation of the 180 seat market, the real gap left behind in India is the much needed inter-regional connectivity, mostly the long routes between Tier II, Tier III cities and Tier I cities. That is where the gap is, and Air Costa moved in to exercise a first mover advantage to tap that market. With Air Costa’s growth being slower than initially projected, and a market that is big enough with a high growth rate, Flyeasy seems to move in to tap the untapped market.

Based on hiring drives on Flyeasy’s Facebook page, the airline may fly to Tiruchy, Bagdogra, Ranchi, Varanasi, Indore and Bhubaneshwar from Bangalore. The network is yet unknown at this stage, but considering a regional operating permit and its limitations, the airline may fly a point-to-point network between Bangalore and six stations.

Sources reveal that the airline will be leasing two Embraer E190s from Flynas (formerly known as NASair). NASair had six Embraer E190s in its fleet, of which two have been transferred to Borajet and one to AnadoluJet of Turkey. Three other E190LRs seem to be in storage, of which 7 year olds MSN 217 and 233 are expected to join Flyeasy’s fleet, and presently are at Jordan undergoing ‘C’ checks. Both aircraft are powered by GE CF34-10E7 engines and are configured to seat 110 passengers each in a single class configuration.

Flyeasy_E190_realMSN 217 is out of the paint shop, in Flyeasy colors, and is expected to be flown into Bangalore this month. The aircraft may be registered with the VT-VVx series, with the first two aircraft expected to be registered VT-VVA and VT-VVB. Maintenance of the aircraft has been outsourced to Airworks.

The airline apparently plans to launch operations with 3 aircraft, and grow the fleet to a total of 5 aircraft within the first 6 months of operations, and discussions with lessors for these aircraft are believed to be in advanced stages. The airline has ambitious plans to grow the fleet to 10 aircraft by July 2017, which seem a bit optimistic.

The airline held a formal application meeting with the DGCA on the 6th of July, 2015. Considering that it takes around 90 days from the formal application meeting to receive the AOP, the airline may receive its AOP towards the end of September, or around early October 2015. This may make the airline open for sales around mid-October 2015, and start commercial operations towards the end of October or early November 2015.

Fleet growth plans, when translated to dates, indicate a fleet of 5 aircraft by April 2016, and thereafter on average one aircraft every 3 months till July 2017, when the fleet size is expected to touch 10.

However, AirAsia India, Air Pegasus, and Air Costa have shown that fleet projections tend to be over optimistic, and are seldom adhered to. The airline plans to induct airplanes through both operating and financing leases.

The real promoters or the source(s) of funding are yet unknown, but the funding seems to be from the Middle East. It is uncertain if there exists foreign direct investment (FDI) or investments from non-resident Indians (NRI).

The airline published the management bios of its 15 heads of departments on its website. Besides a CEO, the airline also has a deputy CEO, Lila Singh Aulakh, who formerly was the director of operations at Air Costa.

Although Air Costa and Flyeasy operate the same aircraft type, the network of Air Costa and the possible destinations of Flyeasy do not overlap. Competition in this case is only notional, with both airlines having no true competitors at this stage.

One very important observation about Flyeasy is the importance the airline gives to the organisational culture. The airline calls its employees a ‘family’. CEO Finn Thaulow, who spent a large part of his airline career with SAS, may have been inspired by Jan Carlzon, who was the CEO of the SAS group between 1981 – 1994. Jan Carlzon transformed SAS from a loss making European airline to a profitable one, by emphasising and cultivating a culture that motivated employees to deliver their best through a feeling of ownership and belonging.

The business model, growth plans and the efficiency of the airline will however be put to test in the speed with which the AOP is secured, and the way in which the airline’s revenues and fleet grow. Customer satisfaction will be another key performance indicator. Airlines with discipline across departments are the most likely to succeed, just like market leader IndiGo, which has benefitted all three stakeholders: the board, employees, and passengers.

AirAsia India increases aircraft utilisation

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AA320

  • One of AirAsia India’s aircraft utilisation has increased to one of the highest in the country.
  • 1 millionth passenger expected to be flown around August 5th.
  • Typical turn around time: 25 -30 minutes.

The airline, which started operations one year ago on June 12th, 2014, now operates a fleet of 5 aircraft from 2 hubs – Bangalore and Delhi. All of the airline’s present flights from Delhi are no less than 2 hours 20 minutes long. Such long flights ensure that the airplanes spend a larger fraction of the flight in air, resulting in higher aircraft utilisation.

One of the airline’s 5 aircraft rotations flies only 2:30hr flights. This rotation covers a Delhi-Bangalore return, and two Delhi-Goa returns. Together, the utilisation on this pattern totals to 15:10 hrs, which is 50 minutes short of the target that the airline had made public, but one of the highest in the country for all domestic operations.

Average utilisation is however at 12:19 hrs, and the minimum utilisation is 11:00hrs. The average turn-around time at the airline is 36 minutes, a figure that is 16 minutes higher than the target of 20 minutes. However, turn around periods of 25 minutes and 30 minutes account for 70% of all turnarounds. There are no turnarounds of 20 minutes. Refer graph below.

Turn_Around_Time

The airline recently added Imphal as a destination, raising the number of destinations to 10. The airline today flies 32 flights a day, deploying 5,760 seats a day and flying around 4,500 passengers daily. Till end May 2015, the airline had flown 716,000 passengers. The airline may fly its 1 millionth passenger on or around the 5th of August 2015.

The airline may add a third Cochin flight in the morning, to provide a well spread out thrice daily service to Cochin from Bangalore. When added, all airplanes will be flying at near maximum utilisation in their rotations. No further growth is possible with the existing fleet.

Aircraft between hubs may be swapped through the night flight I52227 DEL-BLR and I52228 BLR-DEL. Two rotations sync up at the right times to allow for a swap. Until a third Cochin is launched, the airline may use the morning flight I52221 DEL-BLR to swap airplanes.

Ideally, considering that Delhi base has higher aircraft utilisation, the airline may realise a higher fuel saving by deploying two winglet-equipped aircraft at Delhi rather than just one as is the case today. Winglets help realise greater savings on longer flights.

According to the AirAsia Group, AirAsia India, “Overall performance was better than expected with strong loads but is working on keeping costs under check.”

Vistara connects Bangalore to Delhi and Mumbai tomorrow, doubles Delhi-Lucknow frequency

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UK320Vistara, the TATA-SIA joint venture domestic full service airline based out of Delhi will connect Bangalore to Delhi and Mumbai effective 16th June 2015 (tomorrow), with one flight each way, each day. This will coincide with the 159th day of operation of the airline. The airline also doubles the Delhi-Lucknow and back frequency. In the process, the airline will withdraw one service between Mumbai and Ahmedabad (UK968 and UK953), reducing the weekly frequency to 6 from 13.

The Delhi-Lucknow sector is faring well for the airline.

After the addition of the new sectors and withdrawal of flights, Vistara will operate 237 weekly flights with six aircraft connecting 10 cities, deploying a weekly capacity of 35 million ASKs. This is a remarkable growth in just a little over six months of operations.

Of these 35 million ASKs, 21 million are deployed on category 1 (CAT I) routes that connect metros to metros. The remaining are deployed on CAT II routes (connecting ‘neglected’ regions with other cities), CAT IIA routes (connecting cities/towns within neglected regions), and CAT III routes (connecting other cities not included in CAT I, II and IIA). The capacity on CAT II, IIA, III routes are 12%, 2% and 51% of the CAT I capacity, meeting and exceeding the DGCA requirement for capacity deployment on these routes.

The airline’s six aircraft will fly up to 35 flights a day. One of the aircraft rotations fly up to 12:20 hrs, while the Bangalore rotation flies 8:55 hrs. The average aircraft utilisation will settle at 11:14hrs per aircraft per day. Typical turnaround time is 40-45 minutes.

The flight from Bangalore halts at Mumbai for 5:25 hours, sufficient to operate a Mumbai-Goa sector – something the airline isn’t keen on operating now due to the stiff competition on that route. The Delhi-Bangalore flight operates in the morning and the return in the evening, making it very convenient for a Delhi business traveller, but unattractive to a Bangalore based business traveller. For a corporate focussed airline, this sparse service is a surprise. AirAsia India, which caters to the leisure traveller, offers much better frequencies and timings for business travellers based at either city. The airline will increase frequencies on the Bangalore – Delhi sector with the induction of its 7th aircraft.

The airline however offers multiple other connections to Delhi from Bangalore via Mumbai, with the most attractive connection (direct, lowest cost) being featured at the bottom of the list of options. This may need to be corrected to sort by connections, rather than time of departure.

BLR-DELThe airline’s target of a 9 aircraft fleet by end of calendar year 2015 still sticks. Two of the aircraft will be fitted with the wireless in-flight entertainment system, which will later be rolled out fleet wide after an evaluation on these two aircraft.

Vistara, which by end of year will be a true full service carrier with the IFE system, is launching a new in-flight menu offering from 1st July. The new menu is derived from the feedback received from customers over the last six months of operation.

The airline is tying up with multiple companies of the TATA group to offer cross-company benefits to customers.

The month of May was the first month of high travel demand (one of the two high domestic demand months in a calendar year) that Vistara witnessed. Load factors at the airline were 69%.

The airline’s relatively low brand awareness may be impacting the airline’s loads and perhaps in part its pricing power. Marketing activities at the airline may need to be stepped up to effectively communicate the benefits of a fairly less known and new product – premium economy, which accounts for 24% of the airline’s seats.

SpiceJet: Another New Version

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SG737

10 year old SpiceJet’s performance in Q4 FY’15 has been promising. SpiceJet as an airline has been promising in certain quarters, profitable in some others, and disappointing in many. One problem that has plagued the airline is impatience. The constant change of top management results in one, big problem: insufficient time for any strategy to bear fruits, no matter how brilliant.

That is because any strategy has a trial and error phase – essential to coarse and fine tune the strategy to the environment – both internal and external to the airline.

In Q4’FY15, SpiceJet changed hands, yet again. The Marans are out, and Ajay Singh is back in. In the quarter, the aircraft lost a Q400 to an accident at Hubli. Active fleet size was down to 17 Boeing 737s and 13 Q400s – a total of 30 airplanes, down 50% from the days of 57.

Things got so complicated at the airline that the one element required to run an airline was missing – Simplicity.

Operational Numbers

SG_op_Q4

The circumstances surrounding the airline, and the situation it was in Q4’FY15 was very different from what was in Q4’FY14. Yet, comparison is worthy to put things in perspective.

Q4’FY15 saw SpiceJet as a shrunk airline – lesser routes, smaller fleet, lesser departures. The number of flights were lower by 43%, to an average 179 a day from 312 in Q4’FY14. Load factor difference was a positive by 13% – which meant the airline carried more passengers per flight, on average. This had two effects – the number of passengers carried was down only 37% despite 43% lesser flights. This also affected the cargo uplift, which was down 8% due to lesser free cargo space available. The average flight length was 752 km – down 9% from 826km. Capacity was down 52%.

SpiceJet is yet to stabilise its operations. An airline has two aims: safe and convenient flights for passengers, and value for shareholders. Part of convenience are frequency and on time performance, with the latter more important.

SpiceJet’s on time performance isn’t one of the best, and that is something that the airline needs to, and perhaps is, working on. SpiceJet has had the highest number of cancellations among all airlines in the month of January and March, and the second highest among established airlines in the month fo February. Stabilisation of such operational parameters is key to SpiceJet becoming a preferred airline.

Down to the rupee

SG_RASK_CASK change_Q4

Unit revenues speak volumes about an airline’s efficiency.

We look only into Income from operations (Net sales), and ignore all other incomes, as this is the real measure of the airline’s core activity’s performance.

Q4’15 had a revenue of INR 4.15/seat-km (or per ASK= RASK), which is 3% higher than what was realised last year. This shows that the increase in load factors had a positive impact on unit revenues, thanks to the strategies employed by the former CCO Kaneswaran Avili and the VP Revenue Management Fares Kilpady. This also reflects network rationalisation.

When an airline shrinks, costs get complicated. There are certain costs that are hard to shrink, such as employee costs, as layoffs are subject to an airline’s culture. Employee costs per ASK shot up 63% to INR 0.57/seat-km. Further, staff salaries were upward revised after Q4’14.

Although the airline shrunk its fleet, it were the leased Boeing 737s that moved out, not the owned Q400s. Capacity dropped, but the depreciation and amortisation costs associated with the aircraft didn’t. This resulted in the associated costs rising by 48% to INR 0.16/seat-km.

Airport charges went up by 18%, in part due to the reduced flight lengths, which means the airline had more take off and landings for the same capacity. This may have also negatively impacted aircraft maintenance. Spares pool policy may have also had an impact. If an aircraft went for a C-check in this period, costs may have been impacted too. Maintenance costs per ASK went up 3%.

Other operating costs went up 17% to INR 0.16/seat-km.

Other expenses, which includes administrative expenses went down by 5%.

Lease rentals per unit went down 18% to INR 0.61/seat-km, owing to higher utilisation of aircraft which diluted this fixed cost.

Aircraft fuel costs went down 31% to INR 1.52/seat-km largely due to the fall of ATF prices.

Fuel, Maintenance, Staff, Lease and amortisation (as Q400s are owned, and is the equivalent of lease costs) and other operating expenses form a chunk of the expenses, and these 5 together account for 92% of expenses. These costs together went down by 12% to INR 3.62/seat-km in Q4’15 against INR 4.13/seat-km in Q4’14.

Redelivery expenses are one-off expenses and went up 626% to INR 0.35/seat-km. Other expenses are arguably not part of the operating expense consideration set.

With this, the operational cost per available seat kilometre (which excludes one-off redelivery costs and administrative ‘other expenses’) is INR 3.98/seat-km, which is 10% lower than the INR 4.44/seat-km in Q4’14.

With an operational RASK of INR 4.15/seat-km, and an arguable operational CASK of INR 3.98/seat-km, the airline was arguably operationally profitable by INR 0.16/seat-km.

Core operating costs and revenues are stressed upon as this is a reflection of the performance and efficiency of an airline’s core activity. However, an airline will need to be efficient throughout the structure. SpiceJet realised a loss of INR 102 Cr due to the total operating RASK and total operating CASK amounting to INR 4.15/seat-km and INR 4.71/seat-km, respectively.

Extraordinary Income and bottom line

Insurance companies paid INR 161 Cr for the Q400 that was written off after an accident at Hubli, Karnataka. SpiceJet received INR 61 Cr. This, along with other income of 91 Cr added INR 153 Cr to the books. Finance costs drained INR 28 Cr. Overall operating loss drained INR 102 Cr.

The airline realised a net profit of INR 22 Cr, and the insurance pay off was responsible for the tip over into the black.

Comparison with AirAsia India

SG_vs_I5_Q4

While a comparison between a small start-up airline and a larger, older airline is fair to neither airline, a comparison will help show what’s possible.

Unit costs (per seat-km) of staff is leaner at SpiceJet as it is a larger airline, however, this can fall further. SpiceJet cannot escape amortisation & depreciation costs as Q400s are owned, while AirAsia only leases airplanes. Fuel expenses per ASK are higher at SpiceJet due to the higher fuel burn per ASK of the Q400, the possibility of higher burns due to ATC congestion at metros, and higher load factors.

All of AirAsia’s airplanes in Q4 were new, and almost fresh out of maintenance when delivered, needing hardly any maintenance. Such may not have been the case at SpiceJet, which could have taken up the maintenance cost up.

User charges are higher at SpiceJet as AirAsia India does enjoy certain benefits from Bangalore airport – the only airport it used to fly into in Q4. SpiceJet flew into all metros.

Aircraft operating lease expenses appear lower at SpiceJet as of the 30 aircraft in the fleet, only 17 were leased. Q400’s lease costs do not figure in the lease expenses.

Other operating expenses are lower at SpiceJet due to a larger fleet diluting costs. However, ‘other operating costs’ for SpiceJet may not be the same as AirAsia India’s.

Where SpiceJet can trim its cost are in the ‘other expenses’. However, AirAsia India has lower administrative costs as many resources are shared with the AirAsia Group.

The cost structure (see pie charts) of both airlines show the cost structure for both airlines. Generally, a cost structure which has a larger share of fuel cost indicates a leaner structure.

Cost_structure_SG_I5

A chance to renew

What the management did in FY 2014-2015 to SpiceJet has been impressive – revenue management and market stimulation has resulted in a positive impact on unit revenues even with higher load factors and promotional fares. Such practice, if continued, may benefit the airline in the current fiscal.

The airline scaled up its fleet in Q1’16 temporarily through the wet-lease of 3 Boeing 737s. Unverified information point to 2 additional Q400s joining the fleet, and an active evaluation of wet-leasing Airbus A320 aircraft. Whatever the aircraft type, and however questionable it may be, the airline is going to, and needs to increase its fleet size.

SpiceJet has another opportunity to keep the system lean as it regrows. Good contracts, scaling up and high asset utilisation will reduce fixed costs. Good market study, prudent and well researched network growth, leveraging the benefits of the Q400 to do what the market leader cannot, and differentiation of in-flight services can allow SpiceJet to realise good unit revenues even in the light of competition.

Revenues aren’t much of a problem at SpiceJet, but can be bettered through better core service – frequency and on time performance. Costs are the biggest problem in the airline, and will need to be trimmed down significantly.

SpiceJet has what it takes to grow to an extent that allows it to compete non-head-on and healthily with the market leader. Focus on basics and differentiation are key.

AirAsia India reports Q4 FY’15 net loss of INR 19 Cr, trending towards a break even.

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AA320_ATFAirAsia India’s journey so far has been interesting. What was a pleasant surprise was the airline reporting its lowest ever net loss in an operating quarter – of INR 19 Cr. This, despite Q4 being a season of low travel demand, and in the same quarter having had numerous delays and cancellations. It was also the first full quarter of three aircraft operations.

AirAsia India claims to have an attractive cost structure. In this piece, we analyse their figures for Q4 FY’15.

Operating Figures

Operating Numbers Air Asia IndiaIn the months of January, February and March 2015, AirAsia India flew 222,502 passengers. No show passengers were 15,055. These two total to 237,557 seats that were sold. No show accounted for 6% of all sold seats. Total seats flown were 300,240, and flown passenger load factor was 74% for the quarter, while seats sold load factor was 79%.

The airline carried a total of 1,620 tonnes of cargo on 1,668 flights, which averaged to 971 kg of cargo per flight – a very good number.

A total of 2,260 hours were flown in the quarter. With three aircraft, this averaged to a daily average aircraft utilisation of 8:22 hrs per aircraft per day. This low average utilisation reflects the cancellations and delays in the quarter due to crew shortage. While the airline was originally scheduled to fly 22 flights a day, the average flights per day in the three months were lower due to the same reason.

12,155 of the airline’s passengers were affected by cancellations and delays of more than two hours in the quarter.

Market share stood at a constant 1% throughout the quarter.

Operating Expenses

Air Asia India Cost StructureAirAsia India realised an operating expense of INR 95.3Cr in the quarter.

37% of AirAsia India’s costs are due to fuel. The next biggest is staff salaries which make up 25%. Lease comes next at 19%. These three together make up 80% of the airline’s costs. In this period, the airline had three aircraft: VT-ATF/ATB/RED. All three are new enough to have no maintenance issues or checks, and hence maintenance is only 3%.

Average lease cost per aircraft is INR 2 Cr per month.

Revenues

AirAsia India realised an operating revenue of INR 74.4Cr in the quarter. Of this, 92% was due to passenger ticket sales, while 8% was due to ancillary revenue.

Unit Figures

The average fare per passenger (excluding taxes and fees) for the quarter was at INR 2,884. Revenue per available seat kilometre (RASK) was at INR 2.75/seat-km, while Cost per available seat kilometre (CASK) was at INR 3.53/seat-km.

At the same load factor, average fares could have been increased by INR 878 per passenger to operationally break even.

At the same average fares, operational breakeven load factor stood at 103%.

Both figures above assume constant ancillary revenue. Ancillary revenue per flight was INR 35,320.

Average operating cost per block hour was INR 421,311 (US$ 6,600).

Average cost per kilometer flown was INR 635/km.

Positive Trend

AirAsia’s losses are on a steady decrease. With five aircraft operating in Q1’16, better routes, and the strong travel demand, the airline may spring a surprise with its Q1 performance.

A sixth aircraft is expected to join the fleet in June. Q2’16 – a lean season- will be an interesting quarter to watch, with a mild possibility of a break even. The airline may either break even or post profits in Q3’16.

The airline added Imphal to its booking engine on 28th May 2015.

AirAsia India: The Million Passenger Question

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Cumulative Passengers Carried in the first year of ops

AirAsia India is a wonderful airline, and has got a few things right. Their on board service is one of those.

As an airline, especially a start-up airline, making mistakes is inevitable. Falling short of projected growth plans and heavy flight cancellations and delays in certain months of the first year of operations are acceptable. Both these have happened to AirAsia India, and the industry understands. Of course, there are better examples, such as IndiGo, which has managed to play the game like no other.

The unacceptable part? Factually incorrect statements that can lower the overall credibility of the industry.

Here is an excerpt from the May 20 interview of the AirAsia India CEO, by Ashwini Phadnis, as published in The Hindu Business Line:

How many of the things planned initially have happened and how many have not?

We have done certain things we did not expect. We have flown close to a million passengers. By the time we complete our first year we would have flown more than a million passengers[1]. No other airline in India has done that before in their first year of operations[2]. We have done that with a skeleton fleet, meaning, we have utilised aircraft significantly.

We contest both claims [1] & [2], in the interest of factual correctness.

The graph on top (click to enlarge) shows the total number of passengers flown against the first twelve months of operations. All data is from the DGCA.

IndiGo, Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet, and Go Air started operations in the 2005-2006 timeframe. Within the first one year of operations, all airlines in consideration, with the exception of Go Air, carried in excess of 1 million passengers. IndiGo crossed the 2 million mark in the first year!

As of 31st March 2015, AirAsia India had carried 550,000 passengers. This means that the airline will need to carry 450,000 passengers to touch the 1 million mark by the end of June (AirAsia India started operations on 12th June, 2014). This means that the airline will need to carry on average 150,000 passengers in the months of April, May and June. Is this achievable?

Data for the month of April and May were not available at the time of writing this piece. Since April had no new flights, but had infact cut 4 – Bangalore- Chennai & back, the airline flew around 97,200 seats in April. With an assumed 82% load factor – their highest so far, the airline could have flown no more than 80,000 passengers in April.

66% of May was flown with 18 flights a day, which totals to approximately 65,000 seats. Effective 21st May, the airline will operate 8 new flights. For 33% of the month this totals to around 47,000 seats. IN total, May can fly only 112,000 seats. At a generous 90% load factor, this is 100,000 passengers.

In June, the airline will fly 28 flights a day, flying approximately 140000 seats a month. At 80% load factor, this will result in around 120,000 passengers being flown.

This means that AirAsia India will close its first year of operations with a maximum of 850,000 passengers, neither meeting nor crossing the 1 million mark.

We wish the airline all the very best for its northern hub operations.

SpiceJet: Leading the Unbundling Movement towards absolute no-frills

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SpiceJet goes loud on some developments, and silent on the rest. What SpiceJet has done in the last few weeks is to unbundle as much of its services as possible, to find multiple ways in which the airline can make money.

Tony Fernandes (Group CEO, AirAsia) and Mittu Chandilya (CEO, AirAsia India), have been fighting for unbundling of services for long. In fact, when AirAsia launched a year ago, it charged passengers for check in baggage. DGCA interference, reportedly driven by pressure from other airlines, ensured that the airline provided a minimum free check in baggage service: 15kgs per passenger. Tony Fernandes regarded this move undemocratic. He had a point: The 15kgs of baggage did not come free, but was included in the airfare, unknown to the passenger. This only meant that every passenger was forced to pay for a baggage service that he or she may not opt for. Business travellers usually have no check-in baggage.

Air Transport Circular 1 of 2015, dated 24th March, 2015, seems to be an outcome of the constant requests AirAsia India has made to the ministry. The DGCA now allows airlines to charge for all seats that are pre-booked. Previously, this was limited to just 25% of the seats and excluded the middle row seats. The new circular also talks about “Check-in baggage charges” being unbundled. Although this was present in the previous circular, upon which AirAsia India acted, DGCA had the final say. Things seem to have now changed.

SpiceJet is the first airline to have stealthily implemented the circular to the fullest. All the seats on SpiceJet’s aircraft – Bombardier Q400 & Boeing 737, are chargeable when pre-booked, which wasn’t the case earlier.

Every Seat Pays

SpiceJet_737_Q400_Seat_RatesOn the Boeing 737-800s (The airline flies 16 B737-800s and 1 737-900, besides three wet-leased Boeing 737-800s which have no SpiceMax extra legroom rows), the middle seats on rows 6 to 13 are charges at INR 100. The window and aisle seats are charges INR 300. Seats on the first five rows are charged INR 1,000. Emergency exit rows are charged INR 600. From rows 16 to 31, middle seats are charges INR 50, while the aisle and window seats are charged INR 100.

This allows SpiceJet to potentially generate an additional INR 56,400 per Boeing flight. Assuming a flight with 80% load factor has 25% of its passengers pre-booking their seats, this is INR 11,300 per flight. With this assumption, and a maximum of 129 Boeing flights in a day, SpiceJet may realise around INR 14,50,000 revenue per day from selling seats on Boeings alone.

On the Q400s, (The airline flies 12 -13), there are no middle seats. Row 1 (two seats) and Row 2 (right two seats) are SpiceMax seats, charged at INR 500. All other seats upto and including row 6 are charged INR 200. The rest of the seats in the cabin are charged INR 100.

This allows SpiceJet to potentially generate an additional INR 11,200 per Q400 flight. Assuming a flight with 90% load factor has 25% of its passengers pre-booking their seats, this is INR 2,520 per flight. With this assumption, and a maximum of 162 Q400 flights in a day, SpiceJet may realise around INR 4,10,000 revenue per day from selling seats on Q400s alone.

Together, the airline may, on average, generate 18,66,000 per day from selling seats. Over a month, this will be sufficient to pay almost two Boeing 737s’ dry lease.

No free check-in baggage

With SpiceJet’s “#Travel Light, Save More” offer, announced on April 27th, SpiceJet offered 1,50,000 seats on sale. The tickets for these seats were on the condition that a passenger did not travel with a check-in baggage. The offer was extended, adding an additional 100,000 seats. In total, SpiceJet offered 250,000 seats for sale with high confidence that these passengers would not have check in baggage.

With 15Kg per passenger not occupying the cargo hold, the airline has saved 3,750 tonnes of cargo hold weight. At an assumed average cargo rate of INR 20,000 per tonne (we’ve earlier determined this average to be slightly higher), this allows the airline to ‘sell’ INR 7.5 Crore worth cargo space/weight to its cargo handler, Sovika.

If however any passenger chooses to check in their baggage on these tickets, the airline’s T&C requires a flat fee of INR 750 to be paid for upto 15kg. This is the first example in India where a passenger is not granted complimentary 15kg check in service, but has to pay for “any” check in baggage.

This may be SpiceJet’s move in evaluating demand for such tickets. Perhaps, if proved successful, the airline may implement a policy of paying for every check-in baggage.

Other unbundled services

SpiceJet also charges for priority check in, Meal (hot meals – 737s and cold sandwiches – Q400s), excess baggage slabs, a ‘Meet and Assist’ service, and “SpiceAssurance”.

SandwichesPriority Check-in charges a passenger INR 200. Hot Meals on Boeings are charged at INR 315 when pre-booked and INR 350 when bought on board. On Q400s, pre-booked Sandwiches are available for INR 200, and INR 220 when bought on board (the illustration for the Q400 meal is misleading as it shows steam coming from the plate that has the sandwich, which is not true. The sandwiches are cold). The SpiceAssist service comes at INR 500 per passenger (assistance from the SpiceJet staff at the airport).

All these services are ‘opt-in’ services, as mandated in the DGCA circular (a passenger needs to check the box associated with the service. By default, there must be no service pre-selected). However one service, the SpiceAssurance which charges INR 35 per passenger is pre-checked, which may not be the right thing to do. By paying INR 35, SpiceJet offers passengers a voucher of INR 500 is the flight is delayed by 1 to 2 hours, and INR 1000 if beyond 2 hours. This also offers limited baggage loss reimbursement.

This, in our personal opinion, is a poor move. Firstly, this is an opt out service. Secondly, a passenger has to pay for his own compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight. Previously, the airline offered this compensation for free, more. Third, the compensation is in the form of a voucher, which forces the passenger to book on SpiceJet to avail the compensation as a deductible from the next travel fare. Fourth – the voucher is valid for 90 days only.

Passengers who miss this INR 35 on the SpiceJet website (not offered through OTAs) will together contribute INR 19,30,000 to the airline, per month (assuming 10% bookings are through the website, and all these passengers miss or choose to ignore the INR 35 charge).

SpiceJet_double_chargeFor a limited period, opting for a SpiceMax seats entitles a passenger to a complimentary meal. However, the airline allows for a meal to be chosen as well. This means that a passenger pays for a meal that he is entitled to. This seems to be a glitch in the system.

These small little things add up to big money! SpiceJet, we hope, corrects the ‘hot sandwich’ and SpiceAssurance.

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Moving towards absolute no-frills

SpiceJet is the first to act like a ‘true LCC’ in India. IndiGo, Go Air, and surprisingly – AirAsia India, are yet to follow with seat selection and no-free check in baggage. On one hand, these moves pitch SpiceJet as a LCC (we now don’t believe in the term, we prefer no frills carrier), and on the other hand, the SpiceMax seats with good legroom and complimentary meals lend it a different image: of good premium economy luxury. Same brand, two images. Does it lead to brand confusion? We think so.

AirAsia India makes Delhi a hub, 5th aircraft arrives from Malaysia

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AirAsia India announced today Delhi as its second hub, after Bangalore. Delhi will also serve as a base for the airline, while Bangalore will remain the home base.

Assuming that the airline will start flying between Bangalore and Delhi, the airline will for the first time begin flying on a Category I (Cat I) route, as defined by the prevalent route dispersal guidelines (RDG). Flying on a Cat I route will now oblige the airline to deploy a minimum percentage of the Cat I route capacity on Category II, IIA and III routes. Capacity is measured on an available seat kilometer (ASKM) basis. Every 180 seat flight between Bangalore and Delhi adds approximately 3,42,000 ASKM.

This makes the choice of Delhi as a base very important.

The importance of Delhi

Category II (Cat II) routes are routes which were traditionally looked upon as ‘loss making’ routes. These are routes that connect the mainland to the ‘neglected’ north-east, far north, and the islands that make up Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. (Please note that ‘neglected’ is a harsh word, but that’s how the ministry looks upon these regions as far as air connectivity is concerned). 10% of the Cat I capacity must be deployed on Cat II routes (To be soon revised to 20%). Had AirAsia India flown to Port Blair from Chennai or Bangalore, this requirement could have easily been met. AirAsia’s Airbus A320s cannot operate into and out of Agatti’s short strip.

Category IIA (Cat IIA) routes are routes which connect airports within a ‘neglected’ region. Examples are Jammu-Srinagar, and Guwahati-Bagdogra. Unfortunately, the southern portion of India – where AirAsia India is based- has no such Cat IIA routes. 1% of the Cat I capacity must be deployed on Cat II routes (to be soon revised to 1.5%)

To cater to a Cat I route and Cat II & IIA routes, the northern part of India is a wiser hub.

All the routes AirAsia India flies today are Cat III routes, as per prevalent RDGs.

Establish the route

By having a hub at Delhi, AirAsia India can fly early morning flights from Delhi to Bangalore, which can be mirrored by early morning Bangalore – Delhi flights. Similar flights from either destinations may be flown in the evening. This requires one A320 to be based at Delhi, to start with.

If such a strategy is followed, each aircraft will fly a minimum of 2 flights on the Bangalore – Delhi/vv route. Each flight is planned for 2:45 hrs, which will total upto 5:30 hours of utilisation per aircraft on this city-pair, leaving a maximum of around 7hrs of utilisation for other stations.

We feel that the airline may fly a 3x Bangalore-Delhi one way, per day, of which at least 2 shall be direct flights.

Flights to Delhi are not expected before May 2015, and perhaps not before mid-May 2015.

Deploy Cat II & IIA capacity.

Flights between Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar or Delhi-Guwahati-Bagdogra or Delhi-Guwahati-Agartala may be flown for Cat II and Cat IIA capacity. Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar seems to be the most likely set of cities to be flown first.

If the airline is innovative enough, it may make the most of its patterns to fly underserved routes. I am obliged to not exercise my creativity in suggesting routes.

Open Vishakhapatnam as a destination

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AirAsia India presently flies three aircraft, and one of the three patterns flown everyday has a poor utilisation of just 7:50 hrs (see above). It is in this pattern – the third pattern, that two flights to Vishakhapatnam may easily fit in (as published in the DGCA’s Summer Schedule), with perhaps slight schedule changes.

The necessity – 5th aircraft

9MAHU_AirAsia_India_5th_AircraftOpening the Delhi-Bangalore route will require two additional aircraft: one based at Bangalore, and the other at Delhi.

Further, as per CAR Sec 3 AT series C Part II, operators “will be given one year’s time from the date of securing operator’s permit, to have the fleet size of five aircraft”. AirAsia India secured its AOP on May 7th, 2015, and a 5th aircraft is necessary to meet regulatory requirements.

Today, at around 11:00hrs IST, AirAsia India’s 5th aircraft flew into Hyderabad from Kuala Lumpur. The aircraft is a used Malaysia AirAsia A320-216 (9M-AHU) without winglets, and is around 5.5 years old. The aircraft is AirAsia India’s second, non-winglet A320, after the 7 year old A320 which was unveiled to the public on 21st March in the JRD Tata livery (see image on top). Both aircraft are yet to start flying commercially for the airline.

The first three aircraft have winglets. If the airline is prudent with its fuel burn, only the winglet equipped aircraft (VT-RED/ATF/ATB) will be deployed on the BLR-DEL vv route.

Thank you to @ATCBLR on Twitter for posting the 5th aircraft’s arrival.

Marked shift in strategy

Last year, Mittu Chandilya, CEO AirAsia India had announced Goa as the second hub, with the induction of the 4th aircraft. He had also mentioned that the airline will keep off Delhi and Mumbai.

The airline last operated flights on the Bangalore – Chennai route on 31st March 2015.

Air Pegasus : The Start

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Pegasus_Lauch_ShysonAir Pegasus (ICAO: PPL, IATA: OP) is the newest airline in the Indian airspace, and the second active airline to be headquartered in of Bangalore, after AirAsia India. The airline is a regional scheduled operator, and plans to fly a fleet of only ATR 72 aircraft.

The airline received its first ATR 72-500 on September 27th, 2014. The aircraft, with a serial number MSN 699, formerly flew for the now defunt Kingfisher airlines as VT-KAA. The aircraft, back in India to fly for Air Pegasus, is registered VT-APA.

Six months after receiving its first and only aircraft, Air Pegasus was granted its Air Operator’s Permit (AOP) by the DGCA. The airline officially ‘launched’ on April 1st, and today – April 4th 2015 – has opened for bookings.

The second aircraft, another ex-Kingfisher ATR 72, is expected by the end of April 2015. The airline plans a third ATR 72 this year, details of which are not available.

The airline is India’s first all-ATR72 operator.

The airline plans to start operations on 12th April, 2015, with the inaugural flight from Bangalore to Hubli and back. The next day, the Bangalore – Trivandrum – Bangalore route will be inaugurated. These two stations are expected to be followed by Kochi, Chennai, Tuticorin, Belgaum, Rajmundry, Pondicherry and Madurai. Some of these stations witness good demand. However, it must be remembered that demand is a function of pricing.

Pattern+Acft1_initial_pegasusAverage turnaround time at the airline is 25 minutes, and the total aircraft utilization with these two sectors is 5:30 hrs. We expect the utilization to touch close to 10 hours per aircraft per day.

Marketing.

The airline opened for sales today, 4th April, 2015. The open for sales could perhaps have been supported by the presence of newspaper advertisements, media reports, tweets on the official Twitter account, or posts on the Facebook page. These were missing perhaps missing due to the long holiday weekend. It is learnt that the airline will launch a media campaign very soon.

Online Travel Agencies (OTA) are yet to list the airline in their searches, and may soon happen.

Pricing

On the Bangalore- Hubli sector, a fully loaded ATR72 will consume around 875 litres of ATF as trip fuel, assuming a cruise at FL220. This translates to around INR 38,000 as fuel cost, including the discounted sales tax of 4% applicable to aircraft with less than 80 seats flying for a regional airline. The estimated operating cost, taking into account the low aircraft utilisation and few other factors, is at around INR 1,80,000 per flight, bringing the cost per seat on this sector to around INR 2,200, and CASK to INR 5.62.

On the Bangalore- Trivandrum sector, a fully loaded ATR72 will consume around 1,125 litres of ATF as trip fuel, assuming a cruise at FL220. This translates to around INR 49,000 as fuel cost. The operating cost is estimated at around INR 2,00,000 per flight, bringing the cost per seat on this sector to around INR 3,000, and CASK to INR 5.45.

Ticket prices on both sectors fall in eight buckets. The corresponding all inclusive fares are also shown. (deleted upon request)

Depending on the way revenue management at the airline is played with, the airline may comfortably break even with load factors of 70% +/- 10%. However, a lot of this depends on the actual demand by last minute travellers, when ticket prices usually sit in the higher buckets. This high yield D0-D7 demand is also driven by the service reputation that the airline builds over time.

The airline enjoys a monopoly on the Bangalore- Hubli route, and this will do the airline good. Air Pegasus competes with IndiGo, Air India, and Jet Airways on the Bangalore – Trivandrum sector. The airline will face certain stiff competition from IndiGo which prices its fares as low as INR 1,964.

We wish the airline all the very best in its operations.

SpiceJet’s BBAM Boeing 737-800 goes to Pegasus Airlines

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SpiceJet’s Boeing 737-800 MSN 37366 earlier registered as VT-SGU had entered storage in the July of 2014. The aircraft, leased from BBAM, was recently painted in the colors of Pegasus Airlines, and will soon be flown off from Hyderabad Shamshabad to operate for the Turkish airline.

A very significant number of SpiceJet’s Boeing 737s were leased from BBAM, most of which have been returned to the lessor. BBAM, which began as Babcock & Brown Aircraft Management remains the largest lessor for SpiceJet, with five aircraft – VT SGG/SGH/SGV & SGQ – all four Boeing 737-800s, and VT-SPU – a Boeing 737-900.

Recent media reports pointed to BBAM taking SpiceJet to court for the de-registration of the five 737s. The airline issued a statement on 25th March ststing, “Discussions have been ongoing with the lessors for an amicable settlement. SpiceJet fully expects the matter will be resolved shortly and positively with the lessors, and there will be no grounding of aircraft or disruption of operations.”

All five BBAM aircraft are still operating flights for the airline.

Lessors_SpiceJetSpiceJet today flies an active fleet of 17 Boeing 737s, which includes only one 737-900 leased from BBAM. The other lessors are Air Lease Corporation (ALC), Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services (AWAS), Bank of China Aviation (BOC), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), and Mitsubishi Corporation Aviation Partners (MCAP).

SpiceJet owns all its fifteen Bombardier Q400s.

GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), another prominent lessor, had towards the end 2014 pulled out its five Boeing 737s, four of which are parked at Seletar Airport, Singapore- VT-SZE/F/G/H, all of which have been de-registered.

As per the airline’s statement on the 20th of March, 2015, “SpiceJet is also in the process of adding more aircraft to the fleet and expects to add 8-9 Boeings starting in April to take the active Boeing fleet to 25-26 aircraft in the summer, in addition to the 15 Bombardier Q400 aircraft that are owned by SpiceJet. SpiceJet will continue to add more aircraft in the second half of the year to take the Boeing fleet up to 34-35 aircraft by the end of the year.”

It is believed that some of the 737s to come will be wet leased.

Vistara – a review with a view (Analysis)

Vistara_Menu_front

Vistara is the newest airline to have taken wings.It’s a little over two months since the airline started operations. In this period, the airline’s fleet has grown to five, and will soon grow to six for a large part of the Summer schedule. The cities it services have also grown to eight. The fleet size and the number of airplanes have made another pan-India airline that started operations earlier- Air Asia India – now the smallest airline in terms of fleet size and destinations.

What is Vistara? How is it? Where is it going? What should it perhaps do? This and more in our fairly deep analysis, which you can read more about by clicking here.

Celebrating Women’s day – the airline way

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There are few airlines in India which talk about their employees on social media. IndiGo has been featuring some of its staff and crew in its in-flight magazine, but these are more individual stories – either of struggle or achievement than a general feature. AirAsia India hasn’t officially talked of its staff – most photos of staff in a joyful mood are clicked and posted by its poster CEO Mittu. Air India only recently got active on social media. Go Air remains silent and Jet Airways uses certain employee photos to focus on matters other than the employees.

SpiceJet stands out. It became the only airline in India to sticker photos of its crew on the sides of its poster aircraft – VT-SZK. It did away with models, and featured employees for all promotional advertisements and banners. SpiceJet uses its employees as faces of the airline. Women’s day had to be special

Costa_femmeOf all airlines in India, SpiceJet and Air Costa were the only ones to issue press releases with photos of their all women crew. While SpiceJet talked of 16 all women flights operated on Women’s day, Air Costa operated four flights with an all women crew. Air India operated four such flights, but spoke nothing of it on its social media sites. Air Costa issued a press release, but it was only the chief financial officer (CFO) Vivek who posted photos of the all women crew. The only airline that well coordinated the effort was SpiceJet.

Crew_InteractionSanjiv Kapoor, the COO, was active on Twitter, and posted a photo of him posing with the all women crew who flew him from Goa to Delhi. The airline allowed all its fans and followers on Twitter to ask four of its women crew – a captain, a first officer, a cabin crew in charge, and a cabin crew, questions about pretty much anything. It also posted photos of the all women crew that operate the first Q400 and Boeing 737 flights today. SpiceJet pulled all plugs to engage with its audience, and the crew interaction was perhaps the most meaningful activity hitherto undertaken by any airline in India, on Women’s day. The message was clear – don’t just admire, ask and learn. SpiceJet may have been successful in not just inspiring, but guiding men and women seeking a career in the airline industry. Efforts of the management head and the airline social media team seem to have been energetic, and well co-ordinated. Sunday wasn’t an excuse.

While SpiceJet conducted a great, out-of-the-box and meaningful exercise on social media , one aspect where it perhaps fumbled was in blindly (though unofficially) promoting a poorly researched story about a SpiceJet woman pilot from a particular religious community that was carried in the mainstream media – Hindustan Times.

Social media take away – Do what SpiceJet did (not necessarily follow, but get inspired!). It was brilliant and out of the box. Also make social media mental checklists a habit, so that certain stories, when promoted, don’t damage the image of an individual or an airline.

Kudos to SpiceJet, for what it did. We’ll next have to convince them to form an ‘Aviation Day’ that we can observe and celebrate.

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AirAsia India posts a loss of INR 21 Crores for Quarter ending December 2014

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In the quarter ending December 2014 (Q3FY’15 – India), AirAsia India, an associate of AirAsia due to the latter’s share of 49% in the India venture, posted a net loss of INR 21.7 Crores.

In the same quarter, spanning the months of October, November, and December 2014, the airline faced a significant challenge. The airline was faced with a shortage of senior cabin crew, effects of which were largely seen in November and December – very significant delays of many flights (up to 5 hours and more) and the cancellation of some. The airline was forced to play around with its schedules to match the flight duty time limitations (FDTL) of its senior crew, which resulted in the delays and cancellations.

Cancellations at AirAsia India rose from 0% in October to 2.65% in November, and dipped to 1.92% in December. In the quarter, a total of 4,019 passengers were affected by delays more than two hours (2% of the passengers carried in the quarter), and 513 passengers were affected by cancellations (0.2% of the passengers carried in the quarter), as per DGCA data.

In the quarter, the airline flew a total of 201,000 passengers, out of 253,852 seats, resulting in a load factor of 79.2% for the quarter. In the month of November, passengers carried dropped to 61,000, down 5,000 passengers compared to October, while load factors increased to 79.8%, up from 76.2% in October, perhaps indicating that the loads in November were driven by servicing affected passengers.

December is a month of high domestic travel demand. December 2014 was AirAsia India’s first month of operations in a high demand season, which resulted in domestic load factors rising to 81.5% – its highest since start of operations. Considering that the target customers for AirAsia India are leisure travellers, AirAisa India was expected to have recorded higher load factors. This figure was the lowest among all airlines in India for the month, either due to the airline’s limited network or an image that was impacted by the high number of cancellations and delays that continued into December.

AirAsia India ended the quarter with a fleet of 3 Airbus A320 aircraft, of which two are used (from AirAsia Malaysia), and one is new (directly received from Toulouse). The third aircraft entered commercial operations on 18th December 2014.

In the quarter, the airline added only one destination to its network – Pune, on the 17th of December 2014, while doubling the frequency on the Bangalore-Jaipur sector, and halving the Bangalore-Chennai frequency. The airline presently services Chennai, Cochin, Goa, Chandigarh, Jaipur, and Pune from Bangalore, and Jaipur from Pune.

Forecast

As per AirAsia, AirAsia India will receive just three additional aircraft in the year 2015, raising its total fleet to just six (6) aircraft by the close of calendar year 2015. All three aircraft will be used (older) airplanes from AirAsia Malaysia. In the same year, the group will receive only five new airplanes from Airbus, of which one will be for Malaysia AirAsia, two for Phillipines AirAsia, and two for Japan AirAsia which presently has no aircraft.

AirAsia India is forecasted to have a load factor of 81% in Q4 FY’15 (Q1 CY 2015). This may seem difficult considering the airline is entering another lean season, and its past performance in both lean and peak seasons hasn’t been encouraging enough to support this forecast.

However, one tactic that the group may resort to is to feed traffic from Malaysia AirAsia and Thai AirAsia into Bangalore, which can then be picked up by AirAsia India to offer more connections in India, such as Jaipur, Chandigarh and Goa to passengers of the other two AirAsia associate airlines.

Says Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Group CEO, “For a new airline, the AirAsia brand is strong in India and the load factor of 80% recorded in 4Q14 speaks for itself. Looking at the growth potential there, an additional aircraft was added in India during the reported quarter hence it ended the year with a total of 3 aircraft. Though the associate, due to the local regulations, is only allowed to operate domestic routes in its first five years of operations, AAI has the advantage of getting traffic feed from MAA and TAA which also flies in to AAI’s hub in Bangalore. This differentiates AAI from its competitors.”

AirAsia’s A320NEOs will be delivered only at the end of calendar year 2016. Further, in 2015 and the next few years, the group will not be taking in large number of aircraft every year like before, in an attempt to preserve cash.

For the quarter, Thai AirAsia was the only associate to record a net profit. Indonesia AirAsia, Malaysia AirAsia, Philippines AirAsia, AirAsia Japan and AirAsia India recorded net losses. Indonesia AirAsia and Malaysia AirAsia however recorded operating profits.

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The Blackbox store – merchandise sample review.

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We received our Blackbox store merchandise samples – a mug and a crew tag. These have been put to use over the last two weeks, when we’ve been travelling and testing the tag, and sipping away from the mug.

The Blackbox store sent across a personalised ‘Crew’ tag. The tag is made of plastic, and is secured to a handle via a transparent rubbery-plastic strap. This ensures that the strap dies not distract from the tag.

Crew_Tag_Both_viewThe tag sample we received has ‘Aviate Navigate Communicate’ on one side and ‘CREW’ on the other side, both set against a black background. Under the ‘CREW’ is my name, which I really enjoyed as the tag was personalised. The tag is attached to my travelling pull-along suitcase, and has survived any harshness with which the baggage may have been handled. It has helped with the quick identification of baggage on the belt. The tag seems to have sustained a bit of damage, but the impressive part is that the white surface underneath the black surface has not yet been exposed. Says something about the durability of the tag.

The mug I’ve been drinking off (beverages only) is made of white ceramic, and the exterior paint seems durable – it’s lived through washes. The best part is what’s on the mug – IATA airport codes of airfields in India. It is a nice feeling to be able to drink off a mug that has 20 airport codes on it.

The Blackbox store has even more eye catching designs – crew tags, mugs, tee-shirts, and pillow covers, but our luck stretched only so far in getting samples. If you really like my work, sponsor me a tee from their store! Each one of the designs profusely bleeds aviation.

The banner below will link you to their store.

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Aero India 2015 – The ‘Show’

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ai15_03Aero India 2015 is lower in energy than ever. There are no big deals to announce, no big customers to woo. And that reflects in the energy at the show.

On the show front, there is a larger presence of civilian aerobatic teams. The Flying Bulls aerobatic team, the Scandinavian Airshow and the Breitling Wingwalkers, and the Yakovlevs Airshow Aerobatic team. The only other aerobatic team is the Indian Airforce’s Sarang helicopter team.

DSC_0993The Flying Bulls pulled out of the show after two of their aircraft collided mid-air, leading to prop damage to one and wing damage to the other. Incidentally, this was to have been the Flying Bulls’ last airshow on the Zlin 50XL aircraft, as these birds have reached the end of their airframe life.

Civil aircraft on static display includes a Dassault Falcon 7X, Falcon 2000, Pilatus PC-12, Dornier 228NG, Sukhoi Superjet 100, Let L-410 Turbolet, and an Embraer Pheonom 300.

Indoor presence is limited and low key. Original Equipment Manufacturers like UTC Aerospace have a modest stall, while a major airframer like Embraer have neither a stall nor a chalet. Dassault has a large stall, and that is only because of their optimistic outlook of the civilian and military Indian market.

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SpiceJet’s ‘With All Our Heart’ VT-SZK Skymark 1:100 model review

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The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s the day of hearts, and the evening prior, FirstFlight delivered am almost 2 foot long box that had a photo of a SpiceJet aircraft on the side. The wait was over – VT-SZK ‘With all our heart’ was finally home, from SpiceShop, manufactured by Skymarks to a 1:100 scale.

SMR_01SMR_02Inside the box were layers of black foam that carefully housed in all eight parts – The 15 inch long fuselage with the nose gear pre-fitted, both wings with the engines and min gears pre-fitted, the two horizontal stabilizer pieces, the vertical tail, a wooden base stand, and a securing screw. It couldn’t get simpler. All pieces were were packed in plastic save the rudder and the horizontal stabs, which had made their way to the bottom of the box, where it may be prone to damage.

Assembly took just a minute, as all parts are snap fit and firmly stay in place.

From the stand, up!

SMR_04The stand for the model is made of two parts – a wooden base with a polished metallic plaque bearing the SpiceJet logo, the aircraft name ‘Red Chilli’, the aircraft model, registration, and the month and year it was delivered to SpiceJet. A matt finished aluminum support is secured to the wooden base via to screws, which were loose. You’d need a star (‘+’) screwdriver to tighten the screws, to prevent your model from wobbling with fake turbulence on the table. The support is keyed to align the hole on the support with the threaded hole at the bottom of the model’s fuselage. Slight alignment is necessary before the securing screw can be inserted.

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VT-SZK was delivered to SpiceJet in May 2014, is leased from BOC Aviation, and is the airline’s prized airplane for many reasons. It finds a special place in the heart of perhaps all its employees for the singluar reason that it is the only airplane in the fleet to have an off-beat livery. The forward fuselage features three crew on either side. On the left is a lady captain flanked by two lady cabin crew, and on the right is a male captain flanked by two other lady cabin crew. The featured crew are: Capt. K. Rangarajan, Captain and Examiner, Boeing 737. Capt. Anushree Varma, Captain, Boeing 737, CCIC Roshika Chettri, CCIC Rashmani Singh, CCIC Prexa Kaushik, CC Lavi Choudhary.

The aft fuselage of the real aircraft is stickered ‘SpiceJet’ on the left, and ‘With All Our Heart’ on the right. Perfect for valentine’s?

1:100 – How scale is the model?

SMR_05The measuring tape determined the length of the fuselage to be approximately 15 inches. We say approximately because a collector would never get a hard surface to contact the fuselage, for fear fo damage to the decals. The real 737-800 has an overall length (nose to the trailing tip of the horizontal stabilizers) of 1,554 inches. 1,544 / 100 (scale) = 15.44 inches. Yup, the model passes the scale test. Since the wings, engines, and tails appeared proportional, we took the scale on all axes for granted.

SMR_07The most important aspect of any model airplane is the nose. Just as a human is identified by the face, and not the body, an airplane is only a scale model is its nose appears exactly like the real aircraft. Skymarks has got it right here. The model passes the major tests.

Testing Tougher

We shall progress from the nose to the tail, and examine every aspect.

SMR_08The nose is simply great – it couldn’t have been more ‘737’ like. The nose bay doors’ lower edge are curved, which is unlike the real aircraft (straight). The wheels are proportional, but do not move easily.

SMR_09The faces on the fuselage are a little bigger than what they should have been. This can be identified by the location of the face of the first cabin crew relative to the static port (the oval under the third passenger window). The ‘missing windows’ on the 737-8000 are reproduced here – two missing on the left, one on the right (to accommodate air conditioning ducts).

SMR_10The fuselage very clearly shows the line where the ‘double bubbles’ meet (the 737’s fuselage cross section is comprised of two intersecting circles)- see the image on the left with the red arrow, pointing to a visible dent line. Although nowhere this pronounced on the real 737, it allows one to appreciate the 737’s fuselage design.

SMR_11As we progress to the engines, we hit a pocket of disappointment. The engines that Skymarks has used are the Boeing 737- classic (300/400/500) engines, which have the ‘hamster pouch’ look – flattened bottom with a non-circular nacelle. The Boeing 737NGs have an almost circular nacelle. The engine fails the scale test big time. Further, the exhaust nozzle is also long. VT-SZK uses CFM 56-7BE engines, which have a shorter nozzle.

The detailing on the wing is good, complete with the walk zones, flap track fairings, and emergency exit markings. The double slotted flaps, spoilers, and ailerons with aileron tabs are marked on the upper surface. The fuel tank access panels are also marked on the lower surface.

SMR_12The red ‘paint’ on the outer portion of the winglet should have run further under the surface of the winglet.

SMR_13The main landing gears are simple, but the tyres are good. The model would have been more of a scale had they the white wheel caps as found on SZK. The wheel wells could have been painted black for higher level of detailing.

SMR_14The stabilizer and the vertical tail plane are both well detailed, complete with the trim markings (trim markings are not symmetric and so it should have been on the model). The APU inlet door, and APU exhaust are marked.

Conclusion

SpiceJet is the only airline in India to sell 1:100 models of its aircraft (though not on board their flights, but through their website), which is a big plus. The finish of the Skymarks 737-800 is overall good, but could be better with more detailing, such as fine print text near the statics. It is definitely a model for the collector, but does disappoint a bit when it comes to certain details. Hogan’s eye for detail is much better (Example: IndiGo’s A320 ‘Premium model’ sold on board), but then, they do not offer this large a scale.

On the pricing front, the Boeing 737 1:100 is available for INR 9,499 + 13.125% tax + INR 500 shipping = INR 11,246. On airlinemuseum, Skymarks 737-800s are available or US$95, which translates to INR 5,900. Add customs and freight, and the model’s price comes close to SpiceJet’s price, perhaps cheaper by a thousand or two (or three?). But SpiceJet’s price is justified by the limited edition of its infamous aircraft.

In short – a lovely airplane model, largely faithful to the 1:100 scale, and with a finish and color accuracy that is bound to catch eyes and make you stare speechlessly – with all (y)our heart! Must have for a serious model collector.

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The Black Box Store – Aviation Themed merchandise

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TBB_Banner_bMerchandise for aviation enthusiasts is usually the same offering, in different variations: Airplane models, Remove-Before-Flight key chains, and some apparel. Creativity is very limited, just to conform with the narrow range of acceptable designs that qualify one as ‘serious aviation enthusiast’.

This dogmatic approach to aviation enthusiasts has been challenged by The Blackbox store. And how? It has been founded by someone who is both in aviation and not in aviation. Specifically speaking, the founder, who is also a designer, is not really in aviation but supports aviation activities. The result? Numerous friends in operational aviation – pilots, cabin crew, engineers, ground support staff, and more. With many friends come many birthdays, and the want for differentiation drove the designer to unleash the creativity within to gift something that was both unique, yet evidently aviation.

What started with gifting friends has today evolved into a full time business. The Flying Engineer got in touch with the designer, and without unnecessarily overdoing it – fell in love with the range of merchandise targeted at the aviation enthusiast. It’s not another buy and resell store – it’s a store that sells in-house designs, all proprietary of the chief designer, who wants customers more than sales, satisfaction more than profits, because of the personal belief in ,”We’re here for the long run”. No diversions!

The best part of the designs are that they are simple and generic enough to be used / worn anywhere, and yet serve as a soft, classy voice that speaks on your behalf. To someone alien to aviation, most designs appeal as a good design. To someone right in aviation, the designs appeal as classy and fresh, strongly beckoning the avgeek inside. It’s not one of those merchandise and apparel that will want you to shy in a general party – it’s what you’d perhaps want to wear to not stand out as the odd one but mingle with the crowd and yet speak of where you come from.

I’ll be honest about this – the Blackbox store designs have appealed to us, and we’re getting a couple of samples for review – shipping takes a week! We’ll probably even buy the company out – that’s how much we’ve been impressed by what’s on show at the site (and hence we’ve decided to advertise them here). We just hope that what we get is close to or better than what’s been shown on the site. We’ll soon be in a position to decide, and we’ll let you decide for yourself, at www.theblackboxstore.com.

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SpiceJet’s revival: Singh is King

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SpiceQ400_BIALYesterday, SpiceJet announced 5,00,000 seats for sale, bringing back the airline’s ‘Sale’ after a gap of three months. This does send across a message that the airline has set its focus on staying afloat. We discuss SpiceJet under its re-crowned king: Ajay Singh.

Ajay Singh is believed to return to SpiceJet because of two reasons: Him being approached by Maran to revive SpiceJet, who was mulling over closing the airline; and the lower oil prices, and an economy that’s poised to grow. Being a BJP man, he was also approached by the government to salvage the airline, as an airline that bites the dust will imperil the investment climate in the country, posing strategic imperatives for many including the government. And the people, for whom airfares will increase.

The 2015 summer schedule, which comes into effective March 28th onwards, has been planned for 280 daily flights, to be operated with a fleet of 26 Boeing 737s and 15 Q400s – a 41 aircraft fleet, of which 39 will be active at any given time, up from today’s 16 Boeing 737s and 14 Q400s. The commercial team swung back into action, opening bookings till October 2015, and offering 5,00,000 seats for sale, boosting cash flows at the airline. Ajay’s idea is to bounce to a 35 aircraft Boeing fleet as soon as possible- which would be a challenge given that the airline today doesn’t have enough Boeing pilots to fly a fleet of that size. Reportedly, the airline by end of March will have enough pilots to fly only 15 Boeing 737s, as a significant number are serving their notice period. Ajay has appealed to these pilots to reconsider their decision to leave.

Ajay’s priority, as far as the Q400s are concerned, is to pressurize and renegotiate with the manufacturer – Bombardier, to make the turboprop fleet a profitable one, allowing the Q400s to stay for a longer period, and perhaps growing the fleet. Ajay was never in support of the Q400, but as in previous analysis on this site, the turboprops are good money makers, and are needed by SpiceJet to differentiate itself from a big player like IndiGo, by offering routes that are both commercially and technically unfeasible for narrow bodies to operate on. The only problems that SpiceJet may be facing are maintenance and support issues. Ajay looks to making the Q400 fleet ‘a profitable fleet’. SpiceJet has received immense support from Boeing, but has been disappointed with Bombardier who has apparently not behaved as fairly with the airline as they should have.

With money flowing in, Ajay aims to renegotiate all those bad contracts that have been signed.

Ajay wishes to treat the pilots who’ve recently left as furloughed, and looks to getting them back on board on priority. However, this would be a challenge from a technical, emotional and legal perspective, especially for those who have already started flying on another type.

Ajay Singh is looking to introduce a cultural change, or rather, bringing back a culture of transparency between the employees and the higher management. Ajay will look towards better employee and customer engagement, with his aim of achieving perfection in human interaction.

For example, although the present COO Sanjiv had made it clear to all employees that he was accessible anytime via email, there were others lower in the chain of command who had broken this link of direct communications. The Flying Engineer, who had interacted with certain operational staff, had vented out their frustration in not being able to reach the COO directly. Ajay Singh has been made aware of unwanted forces in the airline, and has initiated a task to indentify the negative, and the passionate, and separate these forces for the benefit of the airline, to bring back a cleaner culture they started with, in 2005.

Uplifting hot meals for the crew was recently resumed.

To bring in a greater sense of belonging and loyalty, Ajay Singh is looking to introduce an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). He reportedly told a section of employees, “I want to see all of you owning a piece of SpiceJet”.

To help reset the airline to a comfortable position, Ajay Singh will put money into the airline, in three installments – February, March, and April. He’s already pumped in some money into the airline, but that may have been an emergency infusion to help with aircraft that lessors look to repossessing.

Ajay seems to know what he’s getting into. Sources quote him as saying, “Plenty of sh*t I get on my plate with this acquisition. It needs cleaning up, and it will take time to clean up. I’m still discovering the problems at SpiceJet.

Who sh*t on the plate?

Perhaps there is nothing quite as frustrating as working for someone who doesn’t grasp the basics of the business. Kaneswaran Avili, CCO at SpiceJet had tweeted on 14th November 2014, the day of a board meeting, “Aaaaiiyoo why no one understand RASK……”, very obviously referring to the board.

SpiceJet today is riddled with multiple problems, most of which are related to the airline being cash strapped for a fair period of time. Ajay being a director with SpiceJet since he sold his stake to the Marans in 2010, has kept a watch on the airline, and reportedly believes that the cash strapped situation arose because of some strategic decisions that went wrong in the early years of transfer to the Marans, and also because of certain commercial decisions which were taken primarily in the year 2013, which led to a significant cash burn for the airline, which the airline couldn’t recover from.

Having said that, Ajay reportedly doesn’t seem to throw the entire blame on Maran, as the latter’s background didn’t prepare him to take on airline – a business which is extremely competitive, and consumer centric, contrasting the other businesses he runs. Maran’s lack of involvement in the airline cost him.

Ajay feels he can make a difference, as his involvement in the airline he founded gives him a better understanding of the space. Ajay seems to be passionate about SpiceJet as a brand, and works hard to defend, just like Sanjiv Kapoor, that the present situation at SpiceJet is far different from that at Kingfisher in 2012.

While Ajay believes that the airline has a lot of positives to re-build on, including a strong team led by performers: Sanjiv and Kanesh, the external environment is fast changing – competition is stiffening. SpiceJet will have to play to its strength, to hopefully find itself in a healthier and comfortable state by May 2015 – a month when domestic travel demand is very high, and also the month the airline started operations in its present form, 10 years ago.