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.
The PW1100G-JM family of engines uses a revolutionary but not new technology that essentially makes the engine a cross between a turboprop and a pure turbofan. This is the largest geared turbofan produced till date. With this engine, Pratt and Whitney marks its return as a single brand powerplant option for narrowbody mainline jets. Boeing 737-300/400/500/600/700/800/900/MAX-7/8/9 are all powered by CFM engines, while the Airbus A320 family of aircraft are powered by either CFM or the IAE consortium’s engines. Pratt and Whitney is part of the IAE consortium.
The “JM" in PW1127G-JM represents partner companies Japanese Aero Engine Corporation (JAEC) and (Motoren- und Turbinen-Union GmbH) MTU. JAEC holds a 23 percent share in the PW1100G program and is responsible for the fan, low pressure compressor (LPC) and combustor/diffuser. MTU holds an 18 percent share and is responsible for the low pressure turbine (LPT), and jointly with Pratt & Whitney the high pressure compressor (HPC). Pratt & Whitney is responsible for the remainder of the engine and systems integration.
The PW1100G-JM family powers the Airbus A320NEO family (A319NEO, A320NEO, and A321NEO) and is available in 5 thrust variants of 22,000/24,000/27,000/30,000/33,000 lbf (pound-force) per engine. The PW1127G-JM that powers the A320NEO is the 27,000 lbf variant.
The CFM powered A320NEO (A320-251N) will be certified in the coming months.
In India, all operators that have placed direct orders for Airbus A320NEO aircraft have chosen the PW1127G-JM as the power plant of choice. IndiGo has 430 Airbus A320NEOs on order, some of which may be converted to A321NEO orders. Go Air has an order for 72 Airbus A320NEO aircraft. Vistara, which is committed to the lease of 20 Airbus A320 aircraft from Bank of China Aviation (BOC Aviation), will receive 7 Airbus A320NEOs from mid 2017 onwards. However, the engine option has not yet been finalised. AirAsia India, which leases aircraft from AirAsia Berhad, will receive Airbus A320NEOs powered by the CFM LEAP engines.
One of IndiGo’s Airbus A320NEOs, MSN 6720, is one of the three test aircraft, and has been flying since September 25th, 2015. However, the first production aircraft is destined for Qatar Airways, the launch customer. MSN 6744, to be registered VT-ITA, a Hamburg produced A320NEO already painted in airline colors, may be the first A320NEO for IndiGo, despite being produced after the aircraft that was already flying for the certification program.
The three flight test aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney engines accumulated over 1,070 flight hours over 350 flights. Of these 1,070 flight test hours, 300 were completed with the same aircraft in an airline like environment to ensure operational maturity at entry into service.
The A320-271N is the 9th sub-variant of the A320-200 family, after A320-211/212/214/215/216/231/232/233. The A321-271N is ‘significantly different’ from the original A320 Type certificate via the modification labelled “MOD 161000”. Pratt and Whitney received FAA certification for the PW1100G-JM engine on December 19th, 2014.
The A320-271N’s operating empty weight is around 3 tonnes heavier than the A320-232 which IndiGo flies today. However, the maximum take-off weight of the highest weight variant of the A320-271N is 79 tonnes, which is just 1 tonne higher than the maximum take-off weight of the highest weight variant of the A320-232. The dry weight of each PW1127G-JM engine is 453kg heavier than the IAE V2527-A5 that powers the -232 variant. This implies that the weight of accessories and structural reinforcements total to around 2 tonnes.
The A320-271N promises a fuel saving of upto 11% over the A320-232SL and 15% over the A320-232 (non winglet). Such savings are however realised only on flights of 3000NM and higher.
There is a strong possibility of IndiGo receiving its first Airbus A320NEO by end of this calendar year. As per our information, IndiGo’s A320NEOs will be fitted with 186 seats – six seats more than what it fits every aircraft cabin with, today.
Thanks to Cyril for the heads up on the certification.
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.
SpiceJet, which is the only low cost/fare airline in India to operate with more than one type of fleet, including Boeing 737-800s, Boeing 737-900s, Bombardier Q400 turboprops, today brought in more fleet diversity through the induction of a wet-leased Airbus A320.
The airline had wet-leased two Airbus A319s in the recent past, one of which (LZ-AOA) is still flying with SpiceJet. The A319 that is still flying for SpiceJet is from BHair (Balkan Holidays), and the Airbus A320 inducted today is also from the same operator. This is perhaps a symbol of confidence in operators in wet-leasing airplanes to SpiceJet, perhaps indicative of a more stable financial situation that allows for on-time payments. Boeing 737 wet leased aircraft that earlier flew for SpiceJet in the summer peak season have also returned for another peak-season term.
The Airbus A320 MSN 2863, registered LZ-BHH, previously flew for IndiGo as VT-INB. VT-INB was the second Airbus A320 to be inducted into IndiGo, and exited the fleet in 2012. Sale-Leaseback contracts at IndiGo were earlier for a period of 6 years, which has since been extended after 16 airplanes, following a sooner-than-needed capacity expansion after the collapse of Kingfisher in 2012.
With two Boeing 737-800s dry leased by SpiceJet in scheduled maintenance, the airline today has an active fleet of 23 mainline jets (Boeing 737-800s, Boeing 737-900s, Airbus A319, Airbus A320) and 13 Bombardier Q400s.
The Delhi <> Goa sectors, and the Delhi <> Guwahati sectors will get an additional frequency. The new sector that the airline is expected to operate is Delhi- Vishakhapatnam. Delhi to Vishakhapatnam will depart at 6:05 am as I52551, and will depart Vishakhapatnam at 8:35.
The total number of flights on the Delhi<>Goa sector goes upto thrice daily, and the number on Delhi<>Guwahati goes upto twice daily, from November 17th.
However, the airline now has two flights to Goa from Delhi (and back) spaced just 45 minutes apart, which may lead to cannibalization, pronounced during the off-peak seasons.
The new Delhi – Guwahati flight gives a Delhi passenger the option of a meaningful day return on the same airline.
One of the three aircraft patterns is expected to be dedicated to these new route and frequencies. Aircraft operating the pattern will fly DEL-VTZ-DEL-GOI-DEL-GAU-DEL, accumulating a block time of 14:45 hrs.
With the addition of the new aircraft and the related routes, the airline will increase capacity (measured in available seat kilometres) by 24% over the existing network, and will increase seat capacity by 17% to 7,200 daily seats. Daily flights will increase to 40 from the present 34.
Unlike in the summer peak season when the airline had two airplanes on ground for nearly two months, and incurred setup costs associated with the opening of four new stations (Delhi, Guwahati, Vishakhapatnam, Imphal) the airline in the winter peak season is not opening any new stations, thereby incurring no one time costs related to the network.
Presently, the airline is only selling the new DEL-GOI-DEL and DEL-GAU-DEL flights. The DEL-VTZ-DEL flights are yet to be announced and opened for sale.
AirAsia India, which has been slow in its growth owing to a primarily domestic-international network strategy that was thwarted by the unreasonable delay in lifting the 5/20 rule (a rule requiring an airline to fly international only after flying domestic for 5 years, and a minimum fleet size of 20 airplanes), received its 6th aircraft at Hyderabad’s Shamshabad airport at the MAS-GMR MRO facility.
The aircraft, bearing MSN 4346, previously flew for Indonesia AirAsia as PK-AXL. It is a non-winglet airplane, and is 5 years 4 months old.
It has now been re-registered to VT-APJ, as a tribute to late Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam.
This is AirAsia India’s third non-winglet airplane. This is also the fourth airplane to be dedicated to a person (living and dead) or a place. The other three are VT-ATF (Tony Fernandes), VT-JRT (JRD Tata) and VT-BLR (Bengaluru).
This is perhaps the last airplane the airline will induct in this calendar year – something we had mentioned earlier.
With this, AirAsia India will be adding capacity during the winter peak season. The airline may start operating new sectors or additional frequencies only towards mid-late November 2015.
Due to the late announcement of routes, some of the lowest airfares may be found on AirAsia’s network. While this is good for passengers, it may adversely impact the airline’s unit revenues.
The airline has however started offering via flights – Passengers from Delhi can fly to Imphal via Guwahati, something which the airline did not offer earlier. Via flights will help improve revenues at the airline – something we had mentioned earlier.
While total costs in the airline will rise with the induction of the 6th aircraft, unit costs are expected to slightly fall, which is good for the airline.
The 6th aircraft may be based at Delhi, and may connect the national capital to Visakhapatnam, among other frequency/route additions.
Vistara, which is on track with its fleet expansion plans, received its 8th Airbus A320-232SL at Toulouse. The aircraft, registered VT-TTI and bearing manufacturer serial number (MSN) 6785, is flying from Toulouse to Delhi via Ras Al Khaimah International Airport (UAE), where it will stop for refuelling before continuing to Delhi.
This 8th aircraft, along with the recently accepted 7th aircraft (VT-TTH) will allow the airline to either expand or strengthen its network. The timing of the airplanes is good – allowing the airline to build capacity for the peak season – the months of October, November, December, and part of January.
The airline’s 9th aircraft is expected in the month of November. The airline will close calendar year 2015 with a fleet of 9 aircraft.
Vistara today flies to 11 destinations, with the 12th destination – Varanasi – being added on the 21st of October. All 8 airplanes will be flying 21st October onwards.
The airline, with the 8th aircraft, has the capacity to deploy an additional ~6 flights. Offering a morning BLR-DEL and an evening DEL-BLR is important to raise the appeal of the airline’s network. It will not be surprising if the airline adds a pattern that flies BOM-BLR-DEL-XXX(perhaps VNS?)-DEL-BLR-BOM, to offer its customers better connectivity to BOM and DEL from BLR.
The airline, which has flown nearly 6,50,000 passengers till end September 2015, is expected to cross the 1 million passenger mark by December 31st, 2015, considering the peak season and the addition of capacity with three new airplanes.
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.
It has been learnt that IndiGo may be flying TigerAir’s Airbus A320 aircraft on a ‘short term lease’.
The move gains prominence in the light of four developments: IndiGo’s original 100 airplane order will be completed in the December of 2014, new competition from TATA-SIA and AirAsia India has made IndiGo upward revise its expansion plans, IndiGo has now extended the lease of its airplanes to 10 years from the previously financially viable six years, and Tigerair Mandala ceased operations on 1st July 2014.
IndiGo had ordered 100 Airbus A320 aircraft in the June of 2005. With the 100 airplane order completing in the December of 2014, the 180 airplane order placed in June 2011 kicks in, which comprises 150 A320 new engine option (NEO) and 30 A320 classic engine option (CEO).
With IndiGo inducting 19 A320s in 2012 and 17 A320s in 2013, the 30 aircraft which are part of the new order may be inducted into the fleet by the third quarter of the calendar year 2016, perfectly timed to coincide with the A320 NEOs for the airline. Initial production rate of the A320NEOs will be low as it will share the line with the existing A320s. The A320NEO’s expected entry into service (EIS) is early 2016.
While this was the plan for IndiGo, it seems like the competition has messed them up. To retain market share and maintain an edge, the airline is possibly looking to scale up operations, considering the new routes that are being added, and the fact that the airline is trying to keep its airplanes in its fleet longer, through a lease extension.
To support its expansion plans, IndiGo has been inducting at least one aircraft every month, with as many as four in a month. However (and surprisingly), for unclear reasons, the airline has not inducted any aircraft in the months of May and June. VT-IAP, the yet to be delivered A320, may likely be inducted in August. This will take the fleet size to 79 aircraft, and will be the 95th aircraft from the 100 airplane order., leaving five airplanes to be delivered across the five months August-December.
On July 1st, 2014, Indonesia’s Tigerair Mandala ceased operations. This is the second time ‘Mandala‘ as an airline has ceased operations, and this time it was after Citilink and AirAsia refused to acquire the airline. This has placed nine Airbus A320 aircraft from the airline into storage at Kuala Lumpur, which means nine A320s are available for grabs. The Flying Engineer believes that some of these A320s may make their way to IndiGo under a ‘short term lease’.
Inducting Tigerair Mandala’s A320s into the fleet won’t be an engineering hassle for the airline as these aircraft are also powered by the IAEV2527-A5 engines: the same ones that power the A320s at IndiGo. The cabins are laid out in a dense economy configuration of 180 seats, similar to IndiGo’s. None of the aircraft have the fuel saving ‘sharklets‘.
While this may seem like IndiGo’s knee-jerk reaction to opportunities and market dynamics and competition, it must also be noted that such measures are adding a degree of ‘stickiness’ to IndiGo’s otherwise well planned operations. The airline’s older aircraft, especially some above the age of six years, are starting to appear dirty on the outside-the fuselages of those airplanes are no longer fully white. IndiGo had in the past taken care to ensure its airplanes were clean.
If the Tigerair lease materialises, then it will be the first time in IndiGo’s history that the airline will operate aircraft previously used by another airline, and for the first time will fly airplanes that were previously used.
Tony hints at AirAsia India obtaining its AOP this week.
Note: Partly Speculative article about second aircraft and timelines, based on factual evidence.
AirAsia India presently has only one Airbus A320 airplane- An A320-216SL, registered VT-ATF, with line number 6015. A second Airbus A320, MSN 6096, is painted in the AirAsia scheme, bears the Indian flag, but may be registered 9M-AJM. (Malaysian registration).
This is very likely the second Airbus A320 to join the AirAsia India fleet, but the AirAsia group may have opted to temporarily induct it into the Berhad arm in light of the uncertainties and delays associated with obtaining the Air Operator Permit, or AOP, and later transfer it to AirAsia India once the AOP is received.
AirAsia India, however, successfully completed its proving flights on May 02, 2014, and is expected to receive its AOP very soon.
Tweeted Tony, today, “I think huge week for Airasia. I feel that Airasia India will be approved very soon.” (sic).
This contrasts Tony’s low mood almost a month ago, at Hong Kong, where he stated, “I have never experienced this in my life, where the entire aviation industry has tried to block us. We have been sued and taken to court by every person I know”
After the AOP is received, which is expected this week(and latest by May 15th, 2014), the airline will have to get its schedule approved by the DGCA, after which the airline can be officially “launched”, with the sale of tickets. This may happen towards end-May or the first week of June, and operations may commence either late June or early July, or as late as August, based on the airline’s sales campaign strategy.
The airline is expected to start operations with three airplanes. The new A320, if made to join the AirAsia India fleet, may do so in mid-May 2014.
Read in detail about the two day long proving flights: Day01, Day02.
AirAsia India’s first and only Airbus A320 (-216SL), registered VT-ATF, took to the skies on its maiden proving flight at 0708hrs GMT (1238hrs IST) [32 minute pushback delay]. The routes flown today will be Chennai-Cochin, Cochin-Bangalore, and Bangalore-Chennai: all planned with a 25 minute turn around time. Another proving flight is scheduled tomorrow (May 2nd, 2014), but in the interest of the airline, the route will not be revealed by The Flying Engineer at this point in time.
A proving flight includes a representative selection of the destinations intended to be serviced. Proving flights can be flown on any sector, even if those sectors do not make it to the airline’s schedules. Further, actual flight schedules and routes are subject to DGCA’s approval.
The proving flights of AirAsia India make use of the ground support available at those destinations where AirAsia Berhad (Malaysia) flies. AirAsia Bhd presently flies into and out of Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi (Cochin), Kolkatta, and Tiruchirappalli (Tirchi).
The proving flight follows the successful conclusion of the Main Base Inspection (MBI) on the 19th of April, 2014, and the “Table-Top” exercise (Proving flight readiness check) on the 29th of April, 2014. The MBI was conducted at Chennai, and the “table-top” at Delhi.
The proving flight will have non-revenue passengers and cargo on board, including DGCA personnel and airline staff. Of the airline staff on board, one set of flight crew (2 pilots and 4 cabin crew (two male two female)) will conduct the flight, while the rest will act as passengers. During the course of the flight, DGCA officials will check for the airline’s demonstration of handling of normal and non-normal events (such as dealing with disabled passengers, passenger incapacitation, cabin fire, encountering unexpected turbulence), in accordance with airline’s approved Operations Manual. The airline’s manual was approved, earlier, by the DGCA.
At the end of the proving flights, if the DGCA team finds deficiencies in the airline’s compliance with the approved Operations Manual processes, and procedures or regulatory requirements, then another set of proving flights will have to be taken up to prove that the deficiencies have been addressed.
If the proving flights are successful in the first attempt, then the AOP is expected by the second week of May, 2014. Once the AOP is awarded, the airline must get its flight schedules approved by the DGCA. That is expected in the second half of May. Following the approved schedules, fares are decided upon, and the airline is formally launched, with the start of the sale of tickets. This is expected in the first week of June. The airline will need to sell sufficient tickets and undertake various marketing and promotional campaigns, which is expected to last for a month or two.
With these timelines, AirAsia India is expected to commence scheduled air transport flight operations only in July or August 2014.
Interestingly, AirAsia India has applied for a scheduled passenger air transport operator’s permit, and not a scheduled regional air transport permit, but may keep off the Tier I routes, and fly only those routes that are recognized by the DGCA as regional.
This May Day will be viewed as a “mayday” for some airlines in India, which have openly shown their discomfort with the arrival of AirAsia India.
Edit: Changed “Route Proving Flights” to “Proving Flights” based on a clarification to The Flying Engineer by Mittu Chandilya, CEO AirAsia India.
Three jetliner manufacturers, Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, in alphabetical order, rolled out single aisle firsts in March this year.
It started on March 12th, when Embraer rolled out the first production E175 with fuel burn improvements. New winglets, and fuselage wide aerodynamic “cleanups”, and system optimizations have bettered fuel consumption by 6.4%: a good 1.4% better than the technical team had expected to see in fuel savings, on a “typical flight”, which, according to The Flying Engineer estimates, are in the 500-1000NM region. This 6.4% fuel burn reduction is close to double the figure Airbus achieved with its A320 when it strapped on the winglets it calls Sharklets: between 3-4%, and more than 3 times what Boeing achieved with its 737NG when it rolled out the 737 Performance Improvement Package (PIP) in 2012: 2%.
On March 17th, Airbus announced the final assembly of its A320NEO: the next landmark in mainline single aisle airplanes. The A320NEO will be the first single aisle airplane in its class to enter service, with a new type of engine in this thrust class: the Geared Turbofan Engine. The GTF is expected to set the A320NEO apart from the 737MAX; the latter is expected to fly with the CFM LEAP-1B engine that runs hotter, leaving little room for any engine growth in the future.
On March 20, Boeing rolled out the first Boeing 737NG at increased production rate: 42 airplanes a month, matching what Airbus had achieved almost a year ago: which then was the highest commercial aircraft monthly production rate ever. The interesting feat here is that Boeing achieves this at a single facility, while Airbus gets its 42 airplanes a month at its three final assembly lines: Toulouse, Hamburg, and Tianjin.
As for Bombardier, which is going through a very difficult period, the First CS300: the only aircraft variant in the CSeries program that is relevant today and has garnered much attention from customers, almost twice the firm orders as the shorter variant, the CS100, is in final assembly and the systems are being installed. First flight of the CS300 is expected soon, and the entry into service of the CS300 is expected 6 months after the CS100, the latter slated for the second half of 2015, with the hope that no further program delays are announced.
The ferry flight started at Airbus’ delivery centre, Toulouse, on the southern part of the airfield which is reserved only for Airbus’ operations. VT-ATF, taxied out, and took off from runway 14R at Toulouse–Blagnac Airport (LFBO, TLS), at 1626hrsUTC (2156hrs IST) on 21st march, 2014, 9 days after the expected date of ferry. Faced with issues with the DGCA, the ferry flight kept getting delayed: something that went against the spirit of aviation growth in the country, and demonstrated unarguably that even an established player like Air Asia, with the clout of the TATAs, is unable to sail smooth with the India’s DGCA, which was downgraded to category 2 by the FAA recently.
With this delay, commercial scheduled flights at Air Asia India are expected to commence only late May or early June, 2014, as foreseen, today. The airline is yet to obtain its Air Operator Permit (AOP), only after which a schedule will be approved and the sale of tickets may begin.
But the ferry flight was smooth, and without any glitches. The initial leg of the journey was for 03:32hrs, over some 1,500NM (Nautical Miles) from TLS to Ankara’s (Turkey) Esenboğa International Airport (LTAC, ESB), via southern France, northern Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and finally Bulgaria, arriving at the Turkish city at 1958hrs UTC (0128hrs IST). The one-hour stop at Ankara was only a refueling stop, for the next leg: the 3000-odd NM flight from ESB to Chennai (VOMM, MAA).
At 2117hrs UTC (0247hrs IST), the brand new A320 departed ESB, flying over the north-eastern tip of Syria, through Iraq, avoiding Baghdad, brushing past Kuwait, over the Persian Gulf, overhead Dubai, over the Gulf of Oman, and entering Indian mainland over Maharashtra’s coast, 200km south of Mumbai, and through Bellary in Karnataka, before starting descent from 39,000ft (FL390) to approach and land at Chennai, at 0400hrs UTC (0930hrs IST), with a 0 minute delay. In reality, the actual delay is 9days, 0 minutes. This leg lasted almost 06:30hrs.
In total, the aircraft was in the air for 10 hours from Toulouse to Chennai, and the entire exercise lasted around 11 hours.
The Ferry crew, at Toulouse, before embarking on the 11 hour mission.
The flight had 10 persons on board, in total, all Air Asia employees: 5 pilots, and 5 engineers. Of the 5 pilots, 3 were captains, one from Air Asia Malaysia.
The aircraft was welcomed with a water cannon salute, parked, cleared by customs, and one of the crew members stepped out waving the Indian flag.
A milestone in Indian aviation has been reached. The first airline started with an FDI component has brought its first airplane to the country.
For the complete tracking of the flight, and details, please visit the previous post, by clicking here.
Airbus’ first A320NEO, MSN 6101 (A320-271N) has entered the final assembly line (FAL) at Toulouse, marking yet another milestone in the A320NEO program. The forward fuselage, which arrived from St. Nazaire in France, and the aft fuselage, which arrived from Hamburg in Germany, were mated at the FAL, marking the start of the final assembly.
The next stage is the joining of the wing to the fuselage. Overall, it takes about one month to complete the final assembly of an A320 Family aircraft.
The A320 program crossed a major milestone in November 2013, when the assembly of the first major component- the engine pylon- took place.
First flight is expected in the Autumn of 2014, almost 4 years after the program was launched in December 2010. Airbus took the landmark decision of re-engining the A320 Family after sensing imminent competition from Bombardier’s C-Series airplanes.
Airbus will retain 95% airframe commonality with the present A320, offering the benefit of high dispatch reliability associated with a mature airframe. Airbus has also effected incremental changes to its traditional Airbus A320, thereby eliminating the risks associated with too many modifications in one shot.
In the November of 2011, Airbus flew the first A320 with the version of the sharklets that are now seen on all new production Airbus A320 airplanes, first sharklet-equipped A320 being MSN 5428 delivered in December 2012. The sharklets, which will feature on the A320NEO as well, introduce fuel savings of upto 4% on long flights. Preliminary wing strengthening to handle the aerodynamic loads introduced by the sharklets, and airplane-wide weight reduction to offset the weight due to the strengthening have already been effected.
NEO’s difference from today’s in-production A320 aircraft is the further strengthening of the wing and fuselage to handle the loads associated with the heavier and larger New Engine Option (NEO): The Pratt and Whitney PW1100G and the CFM LEAP-1A. The new more efficient engine together with the sharklets realize a 15% fuel savings on 800nm route lengths, and up to 16%+ on the longer routes, compared to non-sharklet fitted Airbus A320 aircraft.
The Pratt and Whitney Geared Turbofan Engine PW1100G series for the A320, took to the skies in May 2013, on a Pratt and Whitney Boeing 747SP flying test bed.
Changes to the A320 are minimal and the least among other airplanes which are being re-engined and modified to a larger extent, such as the Boeing 737MAX and the Embraer Second Generation E-Jets E2. Historically, all new airplane programs have been met with significant dispatch reliability issues related to technical or maintenance issues associated with an immature airframe. The A320NEO program has the least changes, followed by the MAX and E2 program. The all-new Bombardier C-Series introduces many firsts for Bombardier, making it the program that may likely have the most number of issues, initially atleast: a reason which explains the low number of firm orders: 201, despite having 3 flying airplanes in the test campaign.
In contrast, the Embraer E-Jet E2 program, which airplanes are still “paper” (conceptual), has 200 firm orders. The Boeing 737MAX has 1,807 firm orders and the Airbus A320NEO program has firm orders for 2,667 airplanes.
Least changes with benefits where it matters to an already proven and mature airframe, incremental modifications, early introduction into service (Q4 2015), a dual engine source (all other new/re-engine programs have only one engine supplier), keeping up program development schedule, and the smallest training impact have contributed in large to the sales success of the program.
IndiGo has an order for 180 Airbus A320NEO Family aircraft, which include the A320NEO and A321 NEO. Go Air has 72 airplanes on order, and Air Asia 264 A320NEOs on order. Both IndiGo and GoAir’s A320NEOs will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G. IndiGo operates the IAE engines, of which Pratt and Whitney is a part. Go Air which flies CFM powered A320 aircraft, has switched engine suppliers, to Pratt and Whitney. The PW1100G engines offer two advantages: Room for growth, and availability sooner than the CFM LEAP-1A Engines. Air Asia, which flies CFM powered A320s, has opted for the CFM LEAP-1A to power its NEOs.
First Air Asia India A320 arriving at Chennai tomorrow: landmark event in Indian regional aviation; Air Asia set to clear last hurdle in grant of AOP: Route Proving Flights.
Sources in Toulouse have confirmed that VT-ATF, Air Asia India’s first A320, will depart Toulouse today evening (12th March 2014) to reach Chennai on the morning of the 13th at 09:30hrs local (IST).
Air Asia’s flight crew are already at Toulouse.
This is in agreement with an earlier estimate by the Flying Engineer, on when the aircraft will be delivered (click here).
The great circle direct distance between Toulouse (LFBO) and Chennai (VOMM) is 4,390NM. The ferry flight will however make one stop at Ankara’s (Turkey) Esenboğa International Airport (LTAC).
The aircraft is an A320-216SL (A320 airframe powered by the CFM56-5B6 engine and featuring the Sharklets (Airbus’ term for Winglets). The 56-5B engine delivers 23,500 lbf (100 kN) of thrust, per engine.
In comparison, Go Air flies the A320-214SL, which features the more expensive CFM-56-5B4, which delivers 27,000 lbf (120 kN) of thrust, per engine, and consequently allows for a higher maximum take off weight.
Air Asia India’s A320 will allow the airline to finish off its last formality: route proving flights, which essentially are dummy flights (real flight, but with no paying passengers) to either one or more of its destinations from its base, to prove to the DGCA that it can smoothly handle and meet operational requirements. Once done, and if the DGCA is satisfied, the airline will be granted its AOP, paving the way for operations to start.
The airline is expected to commence commercial operations in May 2014.
Almost a week after its first flight, and less than a week ago, Air Asia India’s Airbus first A320, to be registered as VT-ATF, returned to Toulouse from Hamburg on 26th February 2014, after having its cabin fitted with seats, and other interiors.
The cabin is all economy, with 180 seats, similar to IndiGo’s cabin layout.
A350 MSN 2 (F-WWCF) and MSN 4 (F-WZNW) in flight. Photo: Airbus
MSN 2 & MSN 4 take to the skies for the first time; A350 performance penalties on the first few airplanes; Timelines more important than performance; A350 program gets costlier:why; A320 production ramp up.
Today marks four things: The Airbus Group press conference, the first flight of MSN2, the first flight of MSN4, and the Airbus announcement of the Airbus A320 production ramp-up.
On 2nd January, 2014, EADS, which comprised Airbus, Eurocopter, Cassidian, and Astrium, was been rebranded as “Airbus Group". The Airbus Group press conference must not be confused with the Airbus press conference, which was held on 13th January, 2014. But, very obviously, Airbus was discussed today.
Aviation Week today reported that “Airbus Group is taking a €434 million extraordinary charge in its 2013 results for the A350 program" due to “higher than expected recurring costs for the new widebody aircraft". Airbus, unlike Bombardier: the only other airliner airframer to be engaged in a flight test campaign of an all-new aircraft, has ensured that the program has stuck to schedule, at any cost. And that cost, for now, is an added Euro 434M.
A very interesting insight provided in an article in Aviation Week, in August 2012, which was highlighted today by Rupa Haria, quoted Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group, “If you are missing important milestones, you get beaten up by the financial markets or your customers. . . . You want to meet time guarantees more than performance guarantees."
In other words, the first few airplanes won’t be as good as those that will roll out of the line later.
Which also means that the Airbus A350 airplanes that took to the skies today, F-WWCF(MSN2) and F-WZNW(MSN4), could have benefitted from the later roll out at a cost: the cost to Airbus and its suppliers, who have to manufacture different variants of the same part, for the sake of keeping up with the program schedule. Different variants are due to part/product maturity which comes eventually with time. The most important reason for maturing the part is to result in weight savings, which impact the performance guarantees that Richard Aboulafia was talking about. The financial implications arising out of these performance penalties incurred by the first few operators of the A350, will be passed on to Airbus. This also affects the resale value of the first few aircraft, even with modifications that will be effected on the aircraft in service.
Such relatively immature aircraft, very obviously, come cheap to the airlines, but attract higher subsequent costs of ownership.
According to Aviation Week, there will be three batches of Airbus A350s, based on the design changes, and consequently, performance.
F-WWCF is the first of two A350 flight test aircraft to be equipped with a full passenger cabin interior, and features a distinctive “Carbon" signature livery to reflect its primary construction from advanced materials. 53% of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made-up of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) including Airbus’ first carbon-fibre fuselage. Hence the registration, F-WW"CF", for Carbon Fibre.
MSN 2 will be the first A350 to transport passengers when it undertakes the Early Long Flights (ELF) later in the year. The “passengers" will be Airbus employees. The eye-candy A350 will do well for promotions, especially when it lands at airports outside Toulouse, and even Europe.
The other aircraft to be fitted with a cabin will be MSN 5, which is in the final assembly line and is expected to fly in a few months. MSN 4 joins MSN 1 and 3, the first two airplanes to have taken to the skies, in being those three airplanes dedicated to avionics, noise testing, and various other systems work through the flight test program. These three aircraft will not be fitted with a cabin, but rather, equipped with heavy flight test installation. The aircraft has on its fuselage the logo of Qatar Airways, and “A350 XWB Launch Customer".
It will, however, only be MSN 6 which will be delivered to Qatar Airways. MSN 6 is already in the A350 Final Assembly Line (FAL). This aircraft is expected to take to the skies in the October of 2014, and delivered less than a month later.
Composite image generated from Flight Radar 24
Singapore Airlines will receive MSN 8, the third aircraft intended for commercial operations. Vietnam Airlines will receive MSN 14, and Finnair MSN 18. The 21st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-800, and the 41st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-1000.
MSN 2 and MSN 4 flew together in formation close to the southern border of France, over the Pyrenees mountains, for a photo shoot.
A320s in production. Photo: Airbus
While one program bleeds the finances, the proven narrowbody family: a proven market that allows airliner manufacturers Boeing and Airbus to not only earn their bread but offset costs from other programs.
The A320 program is ramping up production, as announced today by Airbus, to 46 a month in Q2 2016, up from the current rate 42. The new higher production rate will be achieved gradually, with an intermediate step at 44 aircraft per month in Q1 2016.
“Based on the healthy market outlook for our best-selling A320 Family and following a comprehensive assessment of our supply chain’s readiness to ramp-up, we are ready to go to rate 46 by Q2 2016," said Tom Williams, Executive Vice President Programmes. “With a record backlog of over 4,200 A320 Family aircraft and the growing success of the NEO, we have a solid case to increase our monthly output to satisfy our customers’ requirement for more of our fuel efficient aircraft."
Over the past five years, Airbus has steadily increased A320 Family production, going from rate 36 at the end of 2010 to rate 38 in August 2011, then up to rate 40 in Q1 2012 to reach 42 per month in Q4 of the same year.
Air Asia’s first aircraft may not arrive before March 2nd 2014. How many pilots the airline has, and what crew who switch airlines look for. Operations in Summer. This, and more, below.
Air Asia India had intended, in the October of 2013, to start operations with MSN 5200, an Airbus A320 now flying for Indonesia Air Asia as PK-AZI, and was formerly flying with Air Asia Japan. The timing of the closure of Air Asia Japan (October 2013), and the starting of Air Asia India, intended in the December of 2013, was coincidental.
But on 20th January, 2014, the DGCA issued a public notice, stating, “In order to comply with the requirements of Schedule Xl of Aircraft Rules 1937, a notice is hereby given to the public and all the persons likely to be affected by the grant of this permit to M/s Air Asia (lndia) Pvt. Ltd. for the purpose of providing scheduled air transport services in lndia, submit their objections or suggestions, if any, within twenty days of issue of this public notice"
That only meant one thing: delay.
A committee was setup under A.K. Sharan, Joint Director General, DGCA to review the objections and suggestions received in respect of application for grant of permit to Air Asia (India) Pvt. Ltd.
A month later, on 21st February 2014, the DGCA issued a second public notice to do with Air Asia India, in which the following statement was made, “The Committee in its report have not found any reason to keep on hold the processing of application of M/s. Air Asia (India) Pvt. Ltd., for issuance of Air Operator Permit (AOP) ."
This paves the way for the issuance of Air Operator’s Permit “subject to compliance of various requirements in terms of CAR, CAP 3100 and other applicable rules and Air Information Circulars."
Aircraft on short finals
A photo showing MSN6015, an Airbus A320-216SL, was caught flying at Toulouse on 19th February, 2014 (image on top). The aircraft, flying under the test registration F-WWBV, will be registered VT-ATF. VT-ATB, MSN6034 will be the next aircraft to join the fleet, according to ch-aviation. Route proving flights, the last stage in the process to obtain an Air Operator Permit, will be done on these aircraft. MSN5200 will, for now atleast, remain with Indonesia Air Asia.
“The A320 delivers fantastic reliability, and we work these aircraft very hard: flying them almost 14 hours a day – conducting eight landings and takeoffs, performing turnarounds in 25 minutes," said Tony Fernandes, in 2012 when receiving the airline’s 100th Airbus A320 at Toulouse.
When IndiGo and GoAir started operations, their first set of Airbus A320 aircraft took almost one month between the first flight and the delivery to the airline. The time period has now reduced to between 11-15 days, though it occasionally takes a month. If the trend continues, AirAsia’s first airplane may not arrive before 2nd March 2014, and not later than 19th March, 2014.
The award of the AOP is expected 1 – 2 weeks after the route proving flights, if all goes well. This pegs, as of today, the AOP award toward the later part of March 2014, and the start of operations in April 2014, coinciding with the Indian Summer.
Apparently, the airline plans to start operations with 5 aircraft, which is expected to grow to 10 in one year of operation. The airline declined comment on its fleet expansion plans.
The airline presently has 35 pilots. With such a number, the airline can comfortably operate 3-4 aircraft.
As per Indian Civil Aviation Requirements, “Before the Scheduled Operator’s Permit is issued, an applicant shall have a fleet of minimum five aeroplanes." The same CAR offers a relaxation, “To facilitate the start of the operations, operators will be permitted to operate with one aeroplane/ helicopter and will be given one year’s time from the date of securing operator’s permit, to have the fleet size of five aircraft."
Airline in the sights of flightcrew.
Air Asia India presently has 35 pilots: 15 Captains and 20 First Officers. And the hiring is still on.
A Spicejet first officer, who flies the Boeing 737NG, has an Airline transport license, and goes by the alias “spiceflyboy" expresses his thoughts on joining Air Asia. He feels that getting an Airbus Fly-By-Wire rating and experience is good, as he can later move on to an Airbus A330, A340, A350 or A380 operator. With his Boeing experience, he feels he can possibly fly for Boeing 777 and 787 operators. “Globally, Airbus pilots are in greater demand". With 2000+ hours on the Boeing 737NG, another 2000+ hours on the Airbus A320 will, in his opinion, make him “future proof". “Air Asia, being a LCC, will give me a lot of flying, which I need at this stage of my flying career. But I’d go only if they hire me as a transition captain".
Would there be any reasons for not joining Air Asia? “If they don’t take off, I wouldn’t join them. If they pay less, or keep me as a first officer, I wouldn’t want to be with them".
For many senior first officers, who may have to wait long for their command, Air Asia is their target. At this stage of an airline, pushing for command is easier: there is a lot of flying, and the need for captains will make the airline push qualified first officers to the left seat. An expedited command, even with a slightly lower remuneration, means a lot for a senior first officer: the “P1” stamp on the license throws open the job market. It was a similar case at IndiGo when the airline was in a dire need of pilots. That scenario no longer exists at the blue airline.
For others, work culture is more important than the money. There are pilots who are willing to accept INR 20,000-30,000 lower gross pay per month, if they are promised a better work culture, in line with what Air Asia offers today.
In any case, Air Asia India is attracting, on average, 10-15 sufficiently qualified aircrew, for each interview session, even if most are uncertain of switching airlines.
This piece covers Boeing’s slipping grip on the low-cost airline market, with a focus on Asia: how, why, and where.
Air Asia, and EasyJet, operators of Airbus A320 airplanes, were once Boeing 737 operators. Airbus has been on a “rampage", trying to trespass Boeing’s narrowbody territory, and plant what is today the world’s best selling airplane family.
Air Asia, which until as recently as 2010 operated Boeing 737-300 aircraft, is now an all Airbus A320 operator: operating 73 of them. Air Asia Indonesia, which also operated Boeing 737-300s, now flies 30 Airbus A320 airplanes. Lion Air of Indonesia, which operates 99 Boeing 737 aircraft, most of which are 737NG airplanes, placed a firm order for 234 Airbus A320 aircraft, including 60 Airbus A320 classic engine option airplanes. Garuda Citilink, established in 2001 as a low-cost subsidiary of Garuda Indonesia, which operated an all Boeing 737-300 and 400 fleet, now flies 24, more efficient Airbus A320s with the callsign “Supergreen".
Jet Airways has evaluated Airbus A320NEOs, and Neil Mills, the then CEO of SpiceJet, publicly announced the evaluation of a fleet switch to the A320NEO.
Boeing’s comeback: an order of 54 Boeing 737s, comprising 23 737-800s and 31 737 Max 8s from SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, which welcomed its first Boeing 737-800 (9V-MGA) at the Singapore Airshow 2014, marking the start of SilkAir’s transition to an all-Boeing fleet, from the existing fleet of 24 Airbus aircraft, comprising 6 A319s and 18 A320s. (see photo on top)
After SilkAir, Boeing is now trying to sway TigerAir to adopt its airplanes.
How: Airbus’s Successes.
Said Dinesh Keshkar, vice president, Asia-Pacific & India Sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, in February 2013, after Spicejet and Jet Airways performed financially better, (after the demise of Kingfisher), “Can they sustain these yields, which I think they can because of the balance of capacity in the market. They will continue to do well and aviation will continue to grow profitably. The Indian commercial aviation market is improving with higher yields and stability in fuel charges".
The same Keshkar in February 2014 admitted that Indian carriers are “not doing well” due to the decline in the rupee, high fuel costs, and high capital costs and taxes in India. “Certainly the Indian market is not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard to make money there. Nevertheless, everybody realizes that it’s a great market and that’s why more and more people are trying to get into that market."
Said Kiran Rao, executive vice president for strategy at Airbus, in January 2013, “It’s quite understandable that with the high fuel prices and the Indian taxes, the neo really works in India,” he says. “Jet Airways and Spicejet are predominately Boeing airlines today, but we will give it a good shot.”
Two things make the Airbus A320NEO attractive: Great operating economics, and its availability atleast 2 years before the Boeing 737MAX. That gives operators the chance to start reaping the benefits of an economical airplane two years before its competition, and that amounts to saving big money.
To put things in perspective, final assembly for the first Airbus A320NEO will start in March 2014, for the planned maiden flight in autumn, kicking off a flight-test campaign with 8 Airbus A320NEO airplanes, all flying with PW1100G Geared Turbofan Engines. In contrast, the engine that will power the 737MAX, the GE-SNECMA CFM LEAP-1B variant may not take to the skies this year, as the engine manufacturer plans to begin flight tests of the A320NEO’s alternate engine, LEAP-1A, on GE’s Boeing 747 flying testbed in September 2014.
The A320NEO is expected to enter service in late 2015, while the Boeing 737MAX is expected to enter service in late 2017.
“In a high fuel cost environment, it only makes sense to consider all of the available options. We must look at the aircraft that will have the lowest operating costs and see how it fits into our fleet,” said Neil Mills in March 2013, talking about the possible switch to the Airbus A30NEO, to meet medium term fleet requirements.”We will switch from one aircraft type to another if needed. I was with Easyjet when we switched from Boeing to Airbus and we can do the same here.”
The Boeing 737-800, which compares & competes directly with the Airbus A320, burns more fuel for the same payload. The Boeing 737-800 with winglets burns as much fuel as the A320 for the same range, payload, and cruise altitude. The A320 with “sharklets”, however, beats the Boeing 737-800W, and the A320NEO, goes unmatched.
But getting efficient airplanes two years earlier isn’t everything.
A continuing fight in the World Trade Organization is between the U.S. and the European Union over government support to Boeing and Airbus. The U.S. charges that European government subsidies have allowed Airbus to undercut Boeing prices, giving Airbus an unfair advantage in the marketplace and harming the U.S. aerospace industry: Boeing has significantly streamlined its 737 production during the past two years, but company officials said their cost improvements still don’t enable them to break even at the prices Airbus is quoting for the A320.
Although Keskar says that he is “not even going to try” reaching out to AirAsia because of the large number of A320s the carrier has on its order books, Boeing apparently hasn’t stopped trying to sway the airline in its favour. However, Boeing isn’t willing to sell at any price, even though Airbus is charging far less than Boeing is willing to accept. Boeing marketing Vice President Randy Baseler said “the only standard Airbus is setting is with price” on the 2004 Air Berlin deal, in which the German carrier ordered 70 Airbus A320 aircraft . “If you cut your prices enough, anybody will take them,” he said.
Few analysts feel Airbus offers a discount of as much as 60% to sway orders in their favour, while Airbus plays down the discount.
The matter only worsens with the projected 737MAX development costs expected at twice that for the A320NEO. The 737MAX is undergoing far more changes than the famous Airbus narrowbody family.
Boeing has lost out the no-frills, low cost airline segment to Airbus. Boeing once had monopolized this segment, especially with Southwest operating 588 Boeing 737 airplanes, and RyanAir operating 298 airplanes. Now, almost all start up low cost airlines fly the Airbus A320.
India’s “model" airline, IndiGo, and other start-ups: Air Deccan, Go Air, and Kingfisher Airlines (which eventually added the low cost arm Kingfisher RED) either fly or flew Airbus A320s. New airlines on the Indian horizon, whether credible or not, plan an A320 fleet: Skyjet Airways, and Volk Air.
TATA-SIA, the most talked about airline, will have an A320 fleet of 20, all leased, and AirAsia India, in line with the other AirAsias, will also fly with Airbus A320 aircraft.
SilkAir, with a brand that is not low cost but rather full service, will feature a cabin layout of 12 Business Class and 150 Economy class seats, representing an eight percent increase on SilkAir’s current seating capacity on the dual class A320s.
The only advantage in switching to a 737NG, for SilkAir, is increasing capacity without compromising on comfort through seat pitch. But it takes a lot to convince an airline to switch; especially when they could have flown more economical with the A320 sharklets, and saved on fleet transition costs. The real reason lies behind closed, motionless lips.
Stating a SilkAir press release, “A full-service carrier that is committed to creating enjoyable and reliable travel experiences, enhancements that customers can look forward to on the new aircraft include features such as the Boeing Sky Interior, which highlights new modern sculpted sidewalls and window reveals, LED lighting that enhances the sense of spaciousness, larger pivoting overhead stowage bins as well as in-seat audio and power supply for added convenience."
Then why was Spicejet, a low cost, missed by Airbus? SpiceJet began services in May 2005, when Air Asia was still flying an all Boeing 737 fleet, and just one year after EasyJet began transitioning to a predominantly Airbus A319 fleet. It was only in the December of 2005 that AirAsia received its first Airbus A320.
Said Kiran Rao, “We should have won the SpiceJet order the first time around, but it is just that at the time we had so many orders and took our eye off the ball,”.
But TATA-SIA, a full service carrier, should have been the target of Boeing. Dinesh Keshkar said that with the huge backlog for the 737, it was not able to provide narrowbodies to Tata SIA in line with its target to start operations in 2014.