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.