IndiGo, India’s largest airline by domestic market share, today accepted its first Airbus A320neo at Toulouse, France. The aircraft, serial number (MSN) 6799, and registered VT-ITC will be the world’s first Airbus A320neo to enter service outside Germany. IndiGo is the second airline to accept the A320neo after Lufthansa.
The A320-271N is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW1127G-JM engines. Technical issues with the engines had delayed the delivery of these aircraft. At this stage, it is not clear if either the issues have been fully resolved, or IndiGo has benefitted from some sort of compensation from either Airbus or the engine maker Pratt & Whitey. The aircraft is expected to commence commercial operations on on before 15th March 2016.
The first flight for MSN 6799 was on 15th December 2015, nearly 3 months ago. The aircraft is fitted with 186 seats, six more (one row) than the other 101 A320s in the fleet, today. VT-ITC have 31 rows in the cabin, with no windows on the 31st row.
The geared turbofan (GTF) engines fitted on the A320-271N are expected to be quieter than the IAE V2527-A5 engines that power the current fleet of 101 aircraft. The engines are also expected to be more fuel efficient, delivering over 11% fuel burn advantage over the current engines.
The current engines (with the external casing) has a horizontal diameter of 2 meters. The neo engines, with the casing, have a horizontal diameter of 2.67 meters.
It is learnt that technical crew trained on the A320neo are for now based only at Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru. The aircraft will be based at Delhi, and initial routes may include DEL-CCU vv and DEL-BLR vv.
IndiGo was supposed to have been the second airline to receive the Airbus A320 neo. Despite the delay, IndiGo will still be the first Indian airline to receive the A320 neos, followed by Go Air. Deliveries to IndiGo are likely to happen in the summer of this year. Lufthansa, the first customer of the variant, is already operating the neo albeit short routes within Germany, between Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Berlin.
Seat maps published by Lufthansa allow one to compare the A320’s cabin with the A320 neo’s cabin. Both cabins are of identical length, but have a key difference in the layout: The aft two lavatories are moved to the rear bulkhead, reducing galley space, and making space for one extra row of seats (see the image on top). Lufthansa’s A320ceos has 168 seats in its cabin (across 2 classes), while the A320 neo with the rearranged ‘SpaceFlex’ cabin fits 180 seats (across 2 classes), as shown below.
In the case of IndiGo and GoAir’s A320 neos, the cabin will be fitted with 186 seats (single class), 6 more than the present 180 seats fit in the cabin. Moving the lavatories towards the rear bulkhead, and eating into the galley space makes sense for low cost carriers, as the quantum of uplifted food is lesser than full service carriers. But the last row will be where the lavatories were earlier located.
The issue is not about sitting where the lavatories once were, but that the last row (which will be identified as row 31 on IndiGo and GoAir, and row 32 on all other airlines that skip the number ’13’ when identifying rows) will have no window, and little to no recline. This will, undoubtedly, become the least preferred row on the entire aircraft. To make things a bit more uncomfortable, the walls start moving inwards at that row, part of the taper of the aft fuselage.
Seat pitch on the 186 seat A320s will remain unaffected at 28/29 inches. But remember to keep an eye out for windowless row 31 and above.
Today, India, for the size that it is, has only four airlines that fly international: Full service carriers (FSCs) Air India and its subsidiaries, and Jet Airways, and Low cost carriers (LCCs) SpiceJet and IndiGo. This is in contrast to the 10 airlines that operate domestic scheduled services in India, today. While Indian carriers flew 81 million domestic passengers in calendar year 2015 (CY2015), Indian carriers flew only 18 million passengers in the same period.
Only two airlines/airline groups operate short, medium and long haul international services: Air India and Jet Airways. Both airlines have diverse fleets: from short haul domestic ATR 72 turboprops to long haul international Boeing 777s. The LCCs in contrast have narrowbody jets that can cater only to short haul international services.
Due to the limitations of fleet and perhaps the lack of commercially attractive international destinations, LCCs IndiGo and SpiceJet deployed only 4.8% and 9.5% of their total flights on international, in CY2015. In contrast, Jet Airways (Including operations from the Jetlite AOP) deployed 22.1%, while Air India (Including Air India Express and Air India Regional (Alliance)) deployed 32.7% of its total flights on international. Air India and Jet Airways together contribute to 84.5% of all international departures by Indian carriers, while IndiGo and SpiceJet contribute to just 8.8% and 6.8% respectively.
This statistic shows IndiGo and SpiceJet are very small players in the international front, serving destinations at neighbouring countries. IndiGo operates only to five international destinations: Kathmandu (Nepal), Muscat (Oman), Singapore (Singapore), Bangkok (Thailand), and Dubai (U.A.E.), while SpiceJet operates only to six international destinations: Bangkok (Thailand), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dubai (U.A.E), Kabul (Afghanistan), Male (Maldives), and Muscat (Oman).
Air India and Jet Airways started operations before the 5/20 rule was instated in the year 2005. IndiGo and SpiceJet started operations after the 5/20 rule was introduced. The 5/20 rule requires airlines to operate domestic services for a minimum period of five years, after which it can fly international only if the airline has a fleet size of 20 or greater.
Air India Express was the only airline to start immediate international operations (although on an AOP different from Air India) after the 5/20 rule was introduced. The first flight of the airline was an international flight.
Neither IndiGo nor SpiceJet fought the 5/20 rule at that time as the focus of both airlines then, as it is today, is to tap the potential of the domestic market. SpiceJet started international operations in October 2010, while IndiGo commenced international operations in September 2011. Despite both LCCs having started international operations nearly five years ago, when the scale of domestic operations were smaller, both airlines chose not to focus on international operations. (See IndiGo’s fleet induction, here) Both airlines always had the option of inducting larger aircraft to serve destinations beyond the surrounding Asian and Middle East countries. But such is not their business model.
As a result, the only Indian carriers to majorly serve international are Air India and Jet Airways, both of which were not ‘victims’ of the 5/20 rule, whereas IndiGo and SpiceJet, which chose to focus on domestic even though they started international operations five years ago, are ‘victims’ of the 5/20 rule, strongly opposing the removal of the a rule that means nothing, and does not impact either airline..
Go Air started operations in the year 2005, but chose not to increase its fleet beyond 19 aircraft. It deferred its 20th aircraft, which was readied by Airbus. As a result, the airline does not fly international, and seems to have no issues remaining a domestic player. Yet, the airline opposes the removal of the 5/20 rule, though it chose not to operate international.
In the quarter ending 31st December 2015, a total of 12.6 million international passengers were carried by both Indian and international airlines. Of that number, Indian carriers flew just 4.5 million passengers, or just 36% of the total traffic.
India is underutilising its bilaterals, due to restrictions placed by rules such as the 5/20. For the purpose of this case, and for want of time, we consider only three international destinations: Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur.
As of late February 2016, there are three airlines from Singapore that operate to 13 destinations in India. Singapore Airlines, Tiger Airways and Silk Air together operate 134 flights per week to India, from Singapore, and an equal number of return flights. Together, the airlines deploy 30,517 seats per week between Singapore and India, in each direction, using a variety of aircraft: Airbus A319s, A320s, Boeing 737-800s, Airbus A330s, Boeing 777-200s, 777-300s, and Airbus A380.
In contrast, three Indian airlines (four if you count Air India Express separately) connect Singapore to only four destinations in India. Air India, Air India Express, Jet Airways and IndiGo together operate 63 flights per week between the two countries. Together, the airlines deploy just 13,244 seats per week between Singapore and India, in each direction, using Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-800s, Airbus A330-300s, and Boeing 787-8s.
Thai Airways, Thai AirAsia, and Bangkok Airways operate from Bangkok to eight destinations in India, flying 73 flights and deploying 19,497 seats per week, Using Airbus A320s, Boeing 747s, 777-200s, 777-300s, Airbus A330-300s, and Boeing 787-8s.
In contrast, SpiceJet, IndiGo, Jet Airways and Air India together operate 62 flights, deploying 12,474 seats per week, from four Indian destinations to Bangkok, using Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-800s, 737-900s, and Boeing 787-8s.
From Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia Berhad, AirAsia X, Malindo, and Malaysian Airlines operate 180 flights to 12 Indian destinations, deploying 32,903 seats per week between Malaysia and India, using Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-800s, 737-900s, and Airbus A330-300s.
In contrast, only Air India Express operates to Kuala Lumpur, connecting only Chennai to the Malaysian capital with 4 weekly flights and deploying 744 seats per week.
While not all destinations are commercially viable, there is a huge mismatch between the capacity deployed by foreign carriers, and the capacity deployed by Indian carriers, on the same set of routes. Infact, the superior connectivity offered by foreign carriers is not matched by Indian carriers, leaving a large scope for more Indian carriers to boost the Indian economy while also providing international passengers seamless domestic connectivity.
The 5/20 rule must go if India should see it’s own airlines connect India with the rest of the world.
What the FIA won’t tell you
The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), have something against the airlines of the Father of Indian Aviation (FIA), Late JRD Tata. The Tata’s have already done enough to promote connectivity within India: TATA airlines was renamed Air India.
The FIA (Federation) is shaken by the prospects of airlines such as Vistara and AirAsia India. The goal of the FIA is to restrict the operations of such airlines to within India, so that players like the market leader can use its low cost base to lower fares on every route such airlines fly, and bleed the airlines dry. Starting with the smallest and the least capitalised airlines, airlines will knock off the Indian scene, one by one, leaving only a few to operate in India, with the market player enjoying a huge monopoly in setting fares. At that point in time, India will suffer, with neither good international connectivity, nor with strong domestic competition nor worthy alternatives.
While the FIA blames consultancy firm KPMG of auditing Singapore Airlines and consulting for the government, it remains silent on consultancy firm CAPA.
CAPA India, in its Aviation Outlook 2016, stated, “Despite repeated statements by the Minister that there is no logic to the 5/20 rule and that it should be abolished, the discriminatory regulation still remains in place”.
Guess which consultancy firm’s services was sought for IndiGo’s Red Herring Prospectus? CAPA India.
IndiGo performed well in Q3’16, but was it the airline’s best quarter in the fiscal in terms of performance? We dive into the numbers, comparing Q3’16 with three other quarters, while forecasting the airline’s performance in Q4’16 – the current quarter.
IndiGo will launch a direct daily flight between Delhi and Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) on 7th January 2016, making it the longest domestic direct daily flight to be presently offered in India, with a block time of 3:15 hours.
6E 533 will fly DEL-TRV effective 7th January 2016, and 6E352 will fly TRV-DEL effective 8th January 2016.
No other operator offers direct flights between the two cities.
The flight will cover a great circle distance of 1201 nautical miles (NM) or 2,224 km.
Presently, the longest direct daily domestic flight in India is between Mumbai and Guwahati, operated only by IndiGo, with a great circle distance of 1,119 NM and a block time of 3:00 hrs from BOM-GAU, and 3:30hrs from GAU-BOM. The 30 minute difference is due to headwinds when flying from Guwahati to Mumbai, which serve as tailwinds when flying from Mumbai to Guwahati.
Thanks to Ameya: The longest domestic flight is Port Blair – Delhi (1,339 NM) operated by Air India regional on their CRJ 700s on Fridays and Sundays.
The Airbus A320 is the first aircraft to be certified with the Pratt and Whitney (PW) Geared Turbofan (GTF) Engines. The GTF engines are revolutionary, moving somewhat closer to a turboprop with the presence of the reduction gear-drive. The A320neo (new engine option) variant with the PW 1127G-JM engines, the A320-271N, has run into a spot of bother, which has made Qatar and IndiGo refuse the aircraft with its present restrictions. Lufthansa is now the launch customer of the neo.
According to Air Transport World (ATW), “…operational restrictions are still in place for the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engine, pending some hardware and software changes”. This restriction requires the engines to idle for three minutes before the aircraft can commence taxi. Qatar will not accept a part-baked product, and IndiGo will not operate an airplane that will mess with its strict turn-around schedule.
The 5th production Airbus A320neo (-271), MSN 6801, is slated for Lufthansa, to be registered D-AINA. The 11th production A320-271N, MSN 6864, to be registered D-AINB, is the second A320neo slated for Lufthansa. The remaining A320neos upto the 11th are slated for Indigo (5), Qatar (2), and Spirit Airlines (1). Both are assembled at the line at Hamburg (Germany). The first A320neo is planned by Lufthansa to be introduced into commercial service in January first week, according to ATW.
With Lufthansa stepping up as the launch customer, Qatar will become the second operator to induct the A320neo, and IndiGo the third. Go air is slated to receive the 23rd production A320neo (-271N). IndiGo will then receive its neos only in early 2016, as had originally been widely speculated, based on other issues the engine had earlier faced.
The Pratt and Whitney GTF engine, by virtue of its new technology, will have its share of issues till the engine matures, as is the case with almost every new engine. While the GTF optimises propulsive efficiency through the use of a reduction gearbox to drive the three stages of the engine at optimal speeds, the alternate engine to power the A320neo, CFM’s LEAP-1A, optimises thermal efficiency by running the combustion chamber much hotter, relying heavily on material technology to withstand such temperatures. According to Aspire Aviation, the CFM engines have underperformed on fuel consumption, and is facing issues related to both component heating, and cooling mechanisms.
While IndiGo and Go Air will bear the brunt of the bound-to-happen hiccups as the engine matures, Vistara, which is yet to make a decision on its engines in the first half of 2016, will receive its leased neos only in the second half of 2017. The airline will have good time to keep a close watch on the PW1127G-JM engine performance and reliability to make a better informed decision. While the aircraft and engine certification programme put the aircraft through extreme tests, it is also a known fact that Indian operating conditions are harsh for engines. Prolonged operations in Indian conditions will truly test the A320-271N.
Air India has apparently not yet decided on leasing neos in the short-medium term.
IndiGo has turned out to be a consistently aggressive player. The 9 year old airline, which went public when fuel prices were at their lowest and profits at their highest, already flies 98 Airbus A320 current engine option (CEO), and is soon expected to add its 99th airplane. Then, the Airbus A320 new engine option (NEO) starts getting delivered. The magnitude of the airline’s orders, and the airline’s share of the first 35 aircraft to be delivered dwarfs every other airline.
Out of the 98 airplanes that the airline flies, 84 are part of the 100 airplane order that the airline placed in the year 2005. 16 aircraft were returned to the lessor, and those were the only airplanes that had a 6 year lease term. Then, IndiGo did something it had never done before – it started short term dry leasing older, previously operated airplanes, in a desperate attempt to increase capacity. The airline has leased 14 aircraft, most from Tigerair, and is soon expected to induct it’s 15th such airplane, making it the 99th active aircraft in the fleet. All the short term dry leased airplanes that were not part of the airline’s order are registered VT-IDx, with ‘x’ taking values from A to O.
As of October 31st, there are 2,868 disclosed orders for Airbus A320NEO airplanes from airline operators and leasing companies. Out of those 2,868 orders, IndiGo’s totals 430 aircraft – a staggering 15% of that number. This is followed next by the AirAsia, which has 304 NEOs on order.
Although Qatar Airways is the launch customer of the A320NEO, the first production NEO is destined for IndiGo. Out of the first 35 NEOs to be produced, 10 are IndiGo’s, followed next by 6 of Qatar Airways.
Both these point to one thing – that IndiGo is desperate for capacity.
But with the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 18th and 19th A320NEOs destined for IndiGo, why would the airline want to lease a 11 year old A320 as its 99th aircraft?
The A320NEO was expected to be certified this November, but there apparently few delays that has forced Airbus to state that Qatar, the launch customer, will receive its A320NEO by end of this year, without publicly stating a date. IndiGo is a good planner, and perhaps the induction of the 99th aircraft as an old airplane points to the airline having some knowledge about delays in the NEO program which may be unacceptable for a carrier that is ever looking to add capacity.
IndiGo will be adding capacity not just with airplanes, but with seats. While the airline has stated its intent to induct Airbus A321NEOs, orders for such airplanes do not yet officially reflect in Airbus’s order book. Another way the airline is adding seats to airplanes is through the Space Flex concept, where the two aft lavatories will be moved into the galley, freeing up enough space to accommodate an additional row of passengers, taking the total to 186 seats per A320 as opposed to the present 180 seats per A320. All A320s can be retrofitted to the new configuration.
Interestingly, IndiGo co-founder Rakesh Gangwal mentioned that that the larger A321NEO will have a longer range, when compared to the A320NEO. He told Livemint, ” We will soon have the (Airbus) A321, with 234 seats. That brings down costs dramatically and allows us to do different things. Also, the range of the A321 is bigger, so with the same product, we can fly on longer routes from India”. It was only in January this year that Airbus formally announced the A320NEOLR, a 97 tonne Airbus A321 with three auxiliary fuel tanks that offers a range of 4000 nautical miles (NM), which is 300 NM more what is advertised for the A320NEO. Airbus claims that the 97 tonne A321NEO has “the longest range of any single aisle airliner available today and tomorrow, making it ideally suited to transatlantic routes and will allow airlines to tap into new long haul markets which were not previously accessible with current single aisle aircraft.”
However, deliveries for the long range A321NEO are expected in second half of 2018, which means IndiGo will have to do with the A320NEO till then.
Aditya Ghosh told AIN that the airline will increase its operating fleet to 111, 134 and 154 aircraft, by the end of March 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively.
This means that IndiGo will need to induct:
13 A320NEOs by end March 2016, or 4 – 5 airplanes a month assuming deliveries for IndiGo start in January 2016.
23 A320NEOs between March 2016-March 2017, or 2 airplanes a month in FY2016-17.
20 A320NEOs between March 2017-March 2018, or 1-2 airplanes a month in FY2017-18.
This will total to 56 A320NEOs, which will represent 36% of the airline’s fleet by end 2018, in line with what Aditya Ghosh told AIN in October: “We will, within two and a half years, have two-thirds of our fleet with Neos and in five to six years, have an all-Neo fleet”.
With such a plan, all the airplanes presently in IndiGo’s fleet will stay atleast till end March 2018, after which aircraft may be replaced by A320NEOs.
Assuming that IndiGo starts replacing the A320CEOs in its fleet with A320NEOs in its fleet from FY2018-19 to FY 2020-21 (to have an all NEO fleet in 5-6 years), that will involve replacements at an average rate of 2-3 airplanes a month. IndiGo has historically inducted on average 1 airplane a month, but in March 2012 it inducted 3 airplanes in a month. IndiGo will be able to handle 2-3 replacements a month, and perhaps 2 additions each month, taking the induction to a total to 4-5 airplanes a month, perhaps at maximum. At such a rate, the fleet at maximum may rise to around 220 airplanes in FY2021-22. A ball-park figure of 200, if achieved, will translate to IndiGo doubling its fleet in the next 5-6 years, amounting to a net CAGR of 12% – a very reasonable growth rate.
The initial hiccup, however, may still be with the A320NEO program. If IndiGo is to achieve its target of 111 airplanes by end March 2016, and if the NEO certification further pushes back timelines, the airline may have to induct more, previously-operated and old CEO aircraft, though that seems somewhat unlikely.
One of IndiGo’s A320NEOs, a Toulouse assembled frame, which is also the 6th NEO to be built (MSN6720), has been flying since 25th September 2015 to help with the certification program. The second A320NEO (MSN6744), which unlike the other initial NEOs for IndiGo has been assembled at Hamburg, and fully painted in the airline’s colors, but missing engines. It may be that the latter MSN (the Hamburg build) will be delivered first to IndiGo.
Thanks to Ameya for heads-up on the 99th aircraft.
Edit (30th Sept): Edited to include the first flight of the first production A320NEO, which is destined for IndiGo. Edit includes a confirmation of a Space Flex cabin.
Indian domestic market leader IndiGo’s first Airbus A320 NEO (New Engine Option) – part of the July 2011 order for 180 aircraft, has rolled out of the Hamburg (Germany) final assembly line fully painted in the airline colors, but without the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) Engines. This is the third such airframe of the airline. Two have no engines fitted. The cabin has not been fitted yet.
MSN 6720, destined for IndiGo, first flew on September 25th at Toulouse, France. The aircraft fuselage has however not been painted in the airline’s colors, but the wings are in the airline’s markings. MSN6720 is the 6th NEO to be produced, and the first ‘production’ NEO. The to-be Indian Registration of MSN 6720 is yet unknown, but will likely be the first A320 NEO for IndiGo.
A320-271N MSN 6744, which is expected to be registered VT-ITA, is the 7th NEO produced, and likely the second for IndiGo. A320-271N MSN 6799, to be registred VT-ITC, is likely IndiGo’s third A320 being assembled at the Toulouse (France) final assembly line, and is the 9th NEO to be produced. All Airbus A320 NEOs that IndiGo will accept will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1127G engines.
The same engines had a problem with a clip holding seals inside the engine. This had caused concerns on the NEO program schedule, which has invariably slipped a bit. However, launch customer Qatar Airways expects to receive the first aircraft by the end of the calendar year. Interestingly, Qatar’s A320 NEO is MSN 6772 – the 8th NEO – which means it is later down the assembly line sequence when compared to IndiGo’s 6744 and 6720.
The NEOs rely on the sharklets and new, ultra-high bypass geared turbofan engine technology to together deliver fuel savings of upto around 15% (over and above today’s CEO A320’s without sharklets) . Such high fuel savings will however be realized only on very long flights that approach the maximum range of the airplane.
Airbus’s “Space Flex” concept allows airlines to increase the seating capacity of the Airbus A320 (both current engine options (CEO) and NEO) to 189 seats, without compromising on seat pitch and comfort. This is achieved by moving the two rear lavatories closer to the bulkhead, eating into the galley space. This makes more sense to no frills carriers which do not carry much meals on board. The space for service trolleys in the aft galley of the aircraft reduces from 7 to 3. The space where the aft lavatories were fitted are replaced with 1.5 rows of seats.
This increase in number of seats reduces unit costs by 5% to 6%. It is not known if IndiGo will adopt the space flex concept yet. No physical changes to the emergency exits are required. However, opting for a mix of 189 seat and 180 seat A320s may reduce operational flexibility for the airline. Opting for a higher capacity however seems inevitable.
IndiGo is believed to have opted for the Space Flex cabin, but details on when it will appear are not known.
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
Of 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.
Sanjiv 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.
In an interesting observation, IndiGo’s load factors for Q2 FY2014-15 were found to be consistently below the average domestic load factors for the first time in its entire operational history.
The chart above (click to expand) captures IndiGo’s domestic load factors as reported to the DGCA. Plotting this against the average domestic load factors reveals 13 months out of 98 when the load factors of IndiGo have dipped below the average. Most of these below-average loads were in the first seven months of operations at IndiGo. In the last six financial years – the same years when the airline has been reporting profits – this has occurred just thrice. However, in this financial year alone, it has occurred thrice – in Q2 FY’15.
It what appears a challenge of supremacy, SpiceJet’s market stimulation was able to distort usual market dynamics in the lean season. For instance, September, which is historically – from the last three years – the weakest month for domestic travel as indicated through the lowest load factors – has this year matched the load factors as seen in May 2014. While demand still remained low, the market stimulation drive created demand, at the expense of yields but to the benefit of RASK – revenue per available seat kilometer.
While SpiceJet brainchilded and executed this, not every airline could follow its footsteps. IndiGo was unable to match SpiceJet’s market stimulation effects, which positively impacted SpiceJet in Q2, and positively impacted other airlines as well. IndiGo’s load factors also rose in sync with the average domestic load factors, but however, underperformed with below average loads.
Indigo, by following what SpiceJet did, salvaged its September. However, its loads in July and August this year were lower than its loads in the same months the previous year. This performance explains in part the Q2 loss of 100Cr incurred at IndiGo.
In short, market stimulation both surprised and helped the blue airline.
India didn’t seem ready for a taste of South East Asian proven low cost strategy. At the same time, IndiGo is ready to make a killing in the months of November and December, lapping up the excess demand due to SpiceJet’s cancellations and planned temporary capacity reduction.
SpiceJet stimulated the market with great effort, only to hand it on a platter to IndiGo in the peak season.
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.
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%).
However, 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
A 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.
IndiGo today received its 100th Airbus A320 from Hamburg, Germany – one of Airbus’s three presently operational assembly lines. The aircraft, bearing manufacturer serial number 6336, and registered as VT-IAY, was ‘delivered’ to IndiGo yesterday (3-Nov), at around 2300HRS IST (1730 UTC). IndiGo flew the aircraft from Hamburg (Germany) to Istanbul (Turkey), and after a brief tech stop (for refuelling), continued to Delhi. The aircraft landed at 0900 HRS IST (033UTC).
This aircraft marks the completion of the first order of airplanes IndiGo had placed with Airbus, on 16th June 2005, during the Paris Airshow. Back then, IndiGo was just a name.
However, even as far back as in 2005, IndiGo had done its homework well. Not many times does Airbus praise a yet-to start airline with words such as, “IndiGo is the result of extensive analysis and planning by very experienced airline executives and we are convinced it will be a successful new player in a market that is both large and fast growing". These words were spoken by the then Airbus President and CEO, Noël Forgeard.
IndiGo today has survived as the only airline in India to consistently report profits over the last six years, and stands to witness the completion of a massive order of aircraft. The airline firmed up an order for 180 Airbus A320s on 22nd June 2011, for 150 A320NEO and 30 A320CEO (current engine option) aircraft, making it one of the NEO’s launch customers. On 15th October 2014, IndiGo signed an MoU for 250 A320NEO aircraft. As covered first by The Flying Engineer, IndiGo will short term lease A320 aircraft from ailing Tiger Airways.
Almost one year after placing an order for 100 aircraft – in June 2005 – IndiGo received its first A320 on 28th July 2006. The airline commenced operations on 04th August 2006 – 11 days before the completion of India’s 59th year of Independence, and just 6 days after receiving its first aircraft.
All the aircraft since day one have been directly delivered to the airline from Airbus. Till date, the airline has not flown an aircraft that was previously used by another operator. The airline has engaged in sale-leaseback deals for each of its aircraft. The early lease agreements were for about six years (see adjacent graph) – a period just long enough to make the most of a brand new, efficient Airbus A320, while escaping the costly ‘D’ check. Lease agreements have been revised this year to extend the lease to 10 years, in view of IndiGo’s plans to aggressively add capacity to take on the Indian market.
Anomalies have existed in the airline’s aircraft lease. Of the 16 aircraft that have been returned, five flew for the airline for a period ranging from as low as three months to 1 year 5 months (see adjacent graph). Three of these aircraft are today being flown by Etihad, the same airline IndiGo is losing a large number of pilots to.
Of the 84 aircraft in operation, almost quarter the fleet size is between two to three years old, and another quarter between two to one year old (see graph). This shows that nearly half the fleet size was inducted in the last two years. Interestingly, it is two years since Kingfisher airlines stopped all operations, and nearly 60% of the fleet – almost 50 aircraft- was inducted since then. IndiGo expanded fast enough to grab the void in the market that Kingfisher left behind, to today command the largest domestic market share, which is upwards of 30%.
On average, every 35th Airbus A320 produced since 2006 has been delivered to IndiGo. On average, the airline has received one Airbus A320 every month.
Interestingly, though, the airline, for 120 days – between 1st April 2014 and 30th July 2014 – did not receive any aircraft (see graph above – red arrow). It is the longest gap between aircraft deliveries in the history of the airline. The yearly frequency of aircraft joining the airline has not been consistent. (See adjacent graph).
The graphs also show that the 6 year lease, which was in effect earlier, has been extended since early this year.
IndiGo had to adopt five different registration series to cater to its 100 aircraft. Of these five series, only three – the IN, IE, and IF series have had all the English alphabets as the third letter.
All 16 aircraft that have left IndiGo’s fleet were from the IN series. Sharklet equipped A320 aircraft at IndiGo started in the IF series, with VT-IFH. VT-IFH was the first shraklet equipped A320 in India.
With Airbus’s continuous improvement to the A320, every series has something unique, with some changes that may not be noticeable from the outside. For example, VT-IAP onwards, all A320s have a smooth nose, with the lightning strips now embedded in the nose cone (see image comparison below). This helps reduce aerodynamic drag.
With 30 Airbus A320CEOs still in the order book, IndiGo may sustain the induction of 1 A320 a month for the next 2.5 years atleast. Tigerair’s 12 A320s may be used to boost capacity till such time IndiGo’s target fleet size with its own aircraft is reached. With Airbus’s initial A320NEO production rate set to be slow, deliveries of a mixture of A320CEOs and A320NEOs may start late next year, with mixed deliveries running perhaps into 1.5 years, as Airbus gradually boosts production rate (with its new FAL at Mobile, Alabama) and transitions to an A320NEO line from the A320NEO and CEO mix line. However, conversion of some of IndiGo’s A320CEO to NEOs is expected.
Thanks to Oscar Victor for certain info.
Edit, thanks to Cyril Roy: As per Flightglobal, the 30 A320CEOs have been converted to A320NEOs. No CEOs exist on Airbus’s order book for IndiGo. In the light of this, it may seem that Tigerair’s 12 A320 will fill the gap for exactly a year before NEO deliveries begin
Edit, thanks to Shakti Lumba: Airline’s first aircraft delivery changed to July from June, 2006. Start of operations corrected to 4th August, 2006 from 15th August.