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.
Brussels in Belgium presently serves as a ‘scissor hub’ for Jet Airways, for which it dedicates all four of its Airbus A330-330s configured with 34 Première and 259 Economy seats, totalling 293 seats per aircraft. These four A330s, registered VT-JWR/S/T/U, fly to only 4 cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Newark, and Toronto, through the scissor hub at Brussels. No aircraft are parked, no crew are stationed, but the role of Brussels is to allow passengers from Delhi and Mumbai to fly onward to either Newark or Toronto, and vice-versa, while also catering to passengers originating at, or destined for Brussels.
The beauty of this hub is how all four A330-300s from Newark (9W227), Mumbai (9W228), Toronto (9W229), and Delhi (9W230) arrive at Brussels in just a 5 minute window, between 7:45 – 7:50 in the morning, everyday, only to leave 2:30 hours later, together. The four aircraft arrive and depart together.
Passengers from Mumbai transit through Brussels onward to Newark, and vice-versa. Passengers from Delhi transit through Brussels onward to Toronto, and vice-versa. But passengers from Mumbai will need to be transferred at Brussels to the other aircraft to continue to Toronto, and vice-versa. Passengers from Delhi will need to be transferred at Brussels to the other aircraft to continue to Newark, and vice-versa.
Everyday, Jet Airways contributes 8 flights to Brussels, flying in a daily capacity of 2,344 seats, or 855,560 seats annually, of which nearly 75% of seats are filled up to contribute to nearly 650,000 passengers originating, departing, transiting, or transferring at Brussels. 33 Brussels based staff are employed, 75% of which are Belgians.
In the calendar year 2014, Brussels had 22 million passengers use its airport, of which nearly 3% was contributed to by Jet Airways, despite the airline contributing to just over 1% of aircraft movements. Further, of the top ten overseas (outside Europe) destinations from Brussels, New York (JFK & Newark/EWR), Mumbai, Toronto, and Delhi feature in the list. While New York is at the first position, Mumbai is at the 6th place, Toronto in the 8th, and Delhi at 10th.
Jet Airways is the only airline to directly connect Brussels to Toronto, Mumbai, and Delhi, and is one of just four airlines to directly connect Brussels to New York / Newark. Jet Airways enjoys nearly 32% market share on the Brussels – New York/Newark direct route, and 100% on the other three routes.
Nearly 30% of the passengers flying to/from the top ten overseas destinations from Brussels are carried by Jet Airways.
Jet Airways’ operations have thus meant much to Brussels.
Jet Airways has cited commercial reasons for shifting the airline’s European gateway to Amsterdam, which is just 160 kilometres to the north of Brussels, effective March 27, 2016. The airline states that a new strategic code share partnership with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Delta Air Lines will significantly enhance connectivity between India – Europe and North America.
However, the airline will be dropping its flights to Newark from its new European gateway, and while all three flights (To Delhi, Mumbai and Toronto) depart Amsterdam at nearly the same time, they will arrive at Amsterdam in a window of 1 hour 15 minutes. Jet Airways will continue to commit the A330-300 to the European gateway, but will free up one aircraft, allowing it to deploy it on a pattern that is not yet publicly known.
In contrast to Brussel’s 22 million passengers in CY2014, Amsterdam’s Schipol airport handled 55 million passengers in the same period, perhaps promising Jet Airways better commercial prospects.
(Picture on top shows an A330-200, the shorter variant of the A330-300 discussed in this piece).
Alliance Air, which is branded as Air India Regional, received its 5th brand new ATR 72-600 from Toulouse. The aircraft, registered VT-AIW, joins the fleet of four other ATR 72-600s, registered VT-AII, VT-AIT, VT-AIU and VT-AIV. Al five aircraft are leased from Singapore based leasing company Avation.
The ATR 72-600s, which employ an all new cockpit avionics based on technology used on the Airbus A380, is to replace the aging fleet of four ATR 42-320s. The ATR 42-320s in Alliance air are fitted with 48 seats, while the ATR 72-600s are fitted with 70 seats. The older ATRs sport a four bladed propeller, which made the aircraft noisier than the present six-bladed propellers. Passive noise reduction techniques make the present -600’s cabin a lot more pleasant than the older ATRs’.
With the arrival of VT-AIW, which was ferried Toulouse (TLS) – Heraklion (HER) – Ankara (ESB) – Abu Dhabi (AUH) – Delhi (DEL), the total count of active ATR 72s in India (-500 & -600) has gone upto 27, split as 15 ATR 72-500 (Jet AIrways) + 3 ATR 72-600 (Jet AIrways) + 5 ATR 72-600 (Air India Regional / Alliance Air) + 2 ATR 72-500 (Air Pegasus) + 2 ATR 72-500 (TruJet). One ATR 72-500 is undergoing painting at Hosur, destined for Air Pegaus.
India totally has 51 70-80 seat turboprops in service, including 14 Bombardier Q400s of SpiceJet. The smaller ATR 42s, aged on average 21+ years, will soon be phased out.
Air India Regional / Alliance Air flies the longest turboprop route in the country, between Delhi and Rajkot, over 505 nautical miles, a flight that takes 2:30 hours block time, almost the same block time an Airbus or Boeing mainline narrowbody jet (A320 & 737 family) takes to fly double the distance. Due to insufficient crew, and to align with the schedules of the network of its parent Air India, the ATRs at Alliance Air are not utilised as much as the aircraft can be. Average present utilisation of the aircraft at the airline is close to 6 hours per aircraft per day. The aircraft operate only four flights a day, while Jet Airways operates upto 13 hours per aircraft per day and 9 flights per aircraft per day. (maximum figures).
Of the presently four operational ATR 72-600s with Alliance Air, three are based at Delhi, and operate flights to Kullu, Dharamshala, Allahabad, Dehradun, Rajkot and Pantnagar. One is based at Hyderabad, and operates flights to Vijayawada and Tirupati, offering competition to TruJet and Air Costa.
An ATR 72 is best suited for short (distance) and thin (low demand) routes of upto 350 nautical miles. Beyond this, a regional jet generally becomes a more viable and economical option. The shortest ATR 72 sector in India is operated by Jet Airways between Porbandar and Diu, a flight that lasts just 45 minutes block time over a distance of 90 nautical miles (166km). The average ATR 72 city pair distance in India is 223 nautical miles (413 km), while the average domestic flight distance across all domestic flights of all carriers on all aircraft in India is 455NM (843 km).
70-80 seat turboprops serve as good feeder aircraft to mainline aircraft, enabling deeper and true regional penetration in India, especially since many airfields and city pairs in India, today, are operationally and commercially unviable for regional and mainline jets. Many runways are too short for regional and mainline jets, and many cities are too underdeveloped to viably support larger aircraft.
The maps below show the pan-India coverage that turboprops can achieve by being based out of five metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, and by flying a maximum distance of 400NM. Range circles are 300NM and 400NM radius, as mentioned.
Over the next 20 years, a demand for 2,500 turboprops is anticipated, of which close to 50% may be based at Asia.
Header image does not represent VT-AIW, but VT-AII.
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.