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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 (see footnote). 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.

Footnote: Source of loss: Airline internal sources.

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