The year 2015 has been a remarkable year for Indian domestic aviation. The growth in domestic passenger numbers, and the start of many new airlines, has undoubtedly led everyone to believe that 2015 is the third boom in Indian aviation.
But how did 2015 register a strong 20% growth in domestic passengers? Was it mere addition of capacity, or was it more? What triggered the growth? This and more, when you click here.
Till date, regional airlines in India have been looked upon in poor light, largely because of the past and the present. No regional airline in India has survived long, collapsing under the pressures of mismanagement and poor planning. Even today, the way in which regional airlines are both managed and run is disappointing.
The ministry’s proposal for Scheduled Commuter Airlines (SCAs), and the associated benefits, are huge. For one, SCAs will be able to enter into code shares with other airlines. This will be the starting point for capacity purchase agreements (CPAs) as seen in the US of A where mainline airlines contract commuter or regional airlines to offer last airport connectivity. It turns into a win-win for both mainline and the regional or commuter airline.
Yet, the paid up capital requirement, as stipulated by the ministry, reduces entry barriers. This will allow the “not-so-good” to enter the business, mismanage the business, ultimately leading to a collapse, non-payment of salaries, and the like. So how much does an airline require to run?
It depends on many factors. We look into market lease rates of popular aircraft, and the amount of money the airline is going to lose over a period of 2 years. The projections are based on statistical data derived from many airlines, and will make you appreciate how much an airline really needs. We also expand the aircraft set to include other, smaller, in production turboprops.
The Route Dispersal Guidelines (RDG) was introduced in 1994 to provide air connectivity to Jammu & Kashmir, North East, Island territories, and Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, by way of internal cross-subsidy by airlines, using their profits on 12 trunk routes.
Nearly 20 years after its introduction, the ministry is revisiting the rules to keep the rule relevant in today’s domestic scenario.
The ministry, as you will learn, is forcing regular scheduled airlines to deploy more capacity on category (CAT) II and IIA and III routes, and as part of the regional connectivity scheme, airlines will have to contribute to the Ministry’s Viability Gap Fund (VGF) 2% of the fare of almost all tickets sold.
Under India’s Companies Act of 2013, companies that have a net worth of $80 million, a turnover of at least $160 million, or net profits of at least $800,000 must develop a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy and spend a minimum of at-least 2% of net profit.
In this case, the Ministry is imposing a 2% on ticket revenues, not profits, irrespective of the size or health of the airline. And is forcing airplanes to fly more onto ‘unprofitable’ routes, without any subsidy, which effectively increases the amount of CSR done in the Indian aviation industry, despite the thin margins and heavy losses.
In a previous piece, The Flying Engineer had estimated the operational profit of SpiceJet to lie in the INR “around or less than between INR 80 – 110 crore” range. The airline realised an operational profit of INR 70.7 crore. With the results declared exactly a week ago, we shall analyse the actual performance of the airline in Q1 FY 2015-16 (Q1’16).
We first start with costs, as an airline usually has a better grip on costs than revenues. Capacity is measured in seat-kilometres (Available Seat Kilometre – ASK), and costs and revenues, from operations, are referenced to unit capacity. We compare Q1’16 with the same quarter in the last financial year – Q1’15.
Average fuel price in Q1’16 was 28.4% lower than that in Q1’15. The fleet had also shrunk from a Bombardier Q400 : Boeing 737 ratio of around 1:2 to 1:1.3. This impacted fuel costs positively. Due to this ratio, a larger portion of the fuel burn was realised by the Q400s, which enjoy a flat 4% sales tax on fuel, as against as much as 28% sales tax in some airports, applicable to the Boeings. With operations being dominated more by the Q400s, which fly routes much shorter than the Boeings (upto 85% shorter routes on the domestic network), the average stage length had reduced, leading to an increase in the number of departures per unit capacity. More departures and hence landings per unit capacity translates to a higher fuel burn, but this was offset by the Q400’s lower fuel price and perhaps better fuel saving techniques employed at SpiceJet. Unit fuel costs fell by 30.3% despite fuel prices falling only 28.4%.
The changed turboprop : mainline jet fleet ratio also affected lease costs. The Q400s are owned, and hence no lease is paid for such airplanes. As a result, the lease costs of the Boeings (including the wet leased Boeings and Airbuses) were diluted over a capacity that was generated in a larger part by the Q400s. Unit lease rental costs fell by 12%.
Poor on time performance and increased cycles per unit capacity may have led to increased airport charges, though the Q400s do enjoy landing and navigation charges benefits. It is also possible that there may have been an increase in landing, navigation, other airport charges, in flight & other passenger amenities by authorities. Unit airport charges rose 14.8%.
Aircraft maintenance costs were dominated in larger part by the Q400s, which were also utilised higher. The US Dollar strengthened 6.1% against the rupee, which would have led to increased costs. Maintenance costs for each Boeing are expected to have remained largely unchanged. Unit maintenance costs rose by 14.9%.
The quarter witnessed no significant aircraft re-delivery activity, which dropped unit re-delivery expenses by 90.4%.
Other operating costs rose by 45.7% per unit.
Unit employee expenses were impacted by both having a smaller capacity, and the hike in salaries to crew to stop pilots from leaving the airline. This resulted in unit employee expenses rising by 25.5%.
Depreciation and Amortisation expenses are largely dominated by the Q400s. With lower capacity, this expense was rose on a unit basis. Unit Depreciation and Amortisation costs rose 36.2%.
Other expenses, which include a wide variety of costs including hotel and accommodation expenses for crew, dropped by 16.3% on a unit basis.
Overall, unit costs dropped by 12.8%, aided largely by the absence of significant re-delivery expenses and the steep fall in fuel prices. The airline has scope to further streamline costs in at least three areas, with the other areas being out of the airline’s control. When streamlined, either through practices or scale, unit total operational expenses may further fall by 4.3%. With the present scale of operations and in the present environment, this translates to INR 45 crore.
The cost structure at SpiceJet, Q1’16 v/s Q1’15 is shown below:
SpiceJet’s revenues were adversely impacted by lower airline capacity, poor on-time performance, and increased competition leading to lower prices. The first two factors may have made the airline lost high paying, time-sensitive and last minute (D0-D7) passengers. In the 13 month period June’14 to June’15, SpiceJet had the lowest OTP amongst private airlines for 9 months. Further, the cargo carried by the airline on a unit basis dropped by 4.9%, perhaps on account of Q400s dominating a larger part of the capacity. Unit sales fell by 1.1%.
Other operating income rose by 56%.
In total, operating revenues fell by 1% on a unit basis.
(If the Q1’15 P&L statement was not re-classified, unit revenue would have fallen by 2% during the comparison)
Per passenger Revenues
In Q1’15, the sales per passenger (includes ancillary revenue) was a good INR 5,006 per passenger (at re-classified P&L figures). In Q1’16, the the sales was INR 4,215 per passenger. This represents a drop of 15.8% in the sales per passenger.
Usually, a drop in the sales per passenger should not be a concern if the airline flies more passengers. However, a drop in net sales per passenger per ASK (the first number in the unit revenues and cost graph above) is a cause for worry. The drop was INR 0.05/seat-km). This shows that sales per passenger has dropped to a level that overall leads to lesser revenue despite very high load factors.
To put things in perspective, the below graph shows the per passenger sales required to achieve the same net sales from operations, with varying load factors. For example, flying with load factors of 55% at INR 6,939 sales per passenger will generate the same sales as flying 90% load factor at INR 4,240.
In Q1’16, SpiceJet had load factors of 90.5% (Domestic + International). In Q1’15, SpiceJet had load factors of 79% (Domestic + International). If SpiceJet was to have realised the same revenue in Q1’16 with only 79% load factors,the airline would have needed a per passenger sales of INR 4,833. However, the airline in Q1’15 (same quarter, last year) had a per passenger sale of INR 5,006.
This means that had SpiceJet flown with Q1’15 load factors and per-passenger sales, would have realised an increase in sales of 3.6% or INR 39.53 crore in Q1’16. This shows that increase in load factors does not always imply an increase in either Revenue per seat kilometer (RASK) or total revenues.
To have realised this additional INR 39.53 crore, SpiceJet should have generated sales of INR 4,366 per passenger (+INR 151) in Q1’16 at 90.5% load factors.
Of course, unit revenues (RASK) is the most reliable method of gauging performance. But, in the case where RASK falls, the argument above is used to show that the load factor game must be played carefully.
The above argument does not consider the fact that per passenger sales and/or RASK (RASK and per-passenger sales are not directly comparable) can be safely reduced when per passenger costs and/or CASK also reduce. Ultimately, profit is driven by the difference of revenues and costs, and not determined by either revenues or costs alone.
Unit operating profit rose by 201%, despite a fall in unit revenues, largely due to a fall in costs. Fuel today accounts for 35% of the SpiceJet’s operating expenses. Last year, for the same quarter, fuel accounted for 43% of SpiceJet’s operating expenses. If aircraft fuel prices were at the 2014 April-June levels, the airline would have flown into the red.
Had the airline maintained the unit revenues (RASK) of Q1’15, the airline would have generated an additional INR 11.4 crore over the Q1’16 operating revenue of INR 1,106 crore.
Other income at the airline was INR 26.7 crore, against INR 28.9 crore in Q1’15 (re-classified).
Finance Costs in the airline was INR 25.5 crore, against INR 48.7 crore in Q1’15
Profit before tax
In Q1’16, other income (not from operations) and finance costs are almost equal, cancelling out each other. This makes profit in Q1’16 solely due to operating profits, unlike the Q4’15 quarter (ending March 31st 2015) where the airline stepped into profits due to the insurance payoff. Operating loss in Q4’15 was INR 102 crore. Operating loss before depreciation and amortisation expenses was INR 72 crore.
Hot and Spicy or Red?
The Hot and Spicy part is the reduction in finance costs. The Red part in in the operational costs and revenues. Overall, the airline has the potential to perform much better, and hence we’d consider the performance Red, despite the profit. The turnaround has started, but the airline is not yet ‘there’. Costs have to lean and revenues must grow. Good on time performance (OTP) is key. As seen above, sale per passenger and RASK have taken a hit, perhaps largely due to the poor OTP of SpiceJet, and in part due to competition.
Comparison to Estimate
In the estimate of SpiceJet’s Q1’16 performance (click here to read), our estimate of total operating expenses was lesser by 0.26%, while our estimate of revenue from operations was higher by 1.67%. Changes in accounting practices (re-classification, as declared in the Q1’16 financial results) have also impacted the estimate errors. The lower or our estimate of the airline’s operating profit was higher than the actual by 13%. Below is the comparison:
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
On 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”.
Priority 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).
For 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.
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.
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.
Aero 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.
The 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.