2015 is turning out to be the third boom in Indian civil aviation. The first was around 1995, when the sole aim was to start airlines. The second boom was in and around 2005 (ten years later), when low cost carriers were a fad. The third boom that hovers around 2015 (ten years after 2005), seems to be the birth of disruptive airlines. AirAsia India, Vistara, and a slew of regionals : Air Costa, Air Pegasus, Trujet, and Flyeasy.
Mainline routes have saturated. The 180 seat jet has been used, and perhaps, abused. Many markets are still too small to have either a 180 seat jet deployed, or too long in distance to be flown by a turboprop. Turboprops cater to short and thin routes, while regional jets, such as the Embraer E-jets, Mitsubishi MRJ, the Bombardier CRJ series and the CSeries cater to long and thin routes. 180 seat single aisle jets are best suited to long and denser routes.
With the saturation of the 180 seat market, the real gap left behind in India is the much needed inter-regional connectivity, mostly the long routes between Tier II, Tier III cities and Tier I cities. That is where the gap is, and Air Costa moved in to exercise a first mover advantage to tap that market. With Air Costa’s growth being slower than initially projected, and a market that is big enough with a high growth rate, Flyeasy seems to move in to tap the untapped market.
Based on hiring drives on Flyeasy’s Facebook page, the airline may fly to Tiruchy, Bagdogra, Ranchi, Varanasi, Indore and Bhubaneshwar from Bangalore. The network is yet unknown at this stage, but considering a regional operating permit and its limitations, the airline may fly a point-to-point network between Bangalore and six stations.
Sources reveal that the airline will be leasing two Embraer E190s from Flynas (formerly known as NASair). NASair had six Embraer E190s in its fleet, of which two have been transferred to Borajet and one to AnadoluJet of Turkey. Three other E190LRs seem to be in storage, of which 7 year olds MSN 217 and 233 are expected to join Flyeasy’s fleet, and presently are at Jordan undergoing ‘C’ checks. Both aircraft are powered by GE CF34-10E7 engines and are configured to seat 110 passengers each in a single class configuration.
MSN 217 is out of the paint shop, in Flyeasy colors, and is expected to be flown into Bangalore this month. The aircraft may be registered with the VT-VVx series, with the first two aircraft expected to be registered VT-VVA and VT-VVB. Maintenance of the aircraft has been outsourced to Airworks.
The airline apparently plans to launch operations with 3 aircraft, and grow the fleet to a total of 5 aircraft within the first 6 months of operations, and discussions with lessors for these aircraft are believed to be in advanced stages. The airline has ambitious plans to grow the fleet to 10 aircraft by July 2017, which seem a bit optimistic.
The airline held a formal application meeting with the DGCA on the 6th of July, 2015. Considering that it takes around 90 days from the formal application meeting to receive the AOP, the airline may receive its AOP towards the end of September, or around early October 2015. This may make the airline open for sales around mid-October 2015, and start commercial operations towards the end of October or early November 2015.
Fleet growth plans, when translated to dates, indicate a fleet of 5 aircraft by April 2016, and thereafter on average one aircraft every 3 months till July 2017, when the fleet size is expected to touch 10.
However, AirAsia India, Air Pegasus, and Air Costa have shown that fleet projections tend to be over optimistic, and are seldom adhered to. The airline plans to induct airplanes through both operating and financing leases.
The real promoters or the source(s) of funding are yet unknown, but the funding seems to be from the Middle East. It is uncertain if there exists foreign direct investment (FDI) or investments from non-resident Indians (NRI).
The airline published the management bios of its 15 heads of departments on its website. Besides a CEO, the airline also has a deputy CEO, Lila Singh Aulakh, who formerly was the director of operations at Air Costa.
Although Air Costa and Flyeasy operate the same aircraft type, the network of Air Costa and the possible destinations of Flyeasy do not overlap. Competition in this case is only notional, with both airlines having no true competitors at this stage.
One very important observation about Flyeasy is the importance the airline gives to the organisational culture. The airline calls its employees a ‘family’. CEO Finn Thaulow, who spent a large part of his airline career with SAS, may have been inspired by Jan Carlzon, who was the CEO of the SAS group between 1981 – 1994. Jan Carlzon transformed SAS from a loss making European airline to a profitable one, by emphasising and cultivating a culture that motivated employees to deliver their best through a feeling of ownership and belonging.
The business model, growth plans and the efficiency of the airline will however be put to test in the speed with which the AOP is secured, and the way in which the airline’s revenues and fleet grow. Customer satisfaction will be another key performance indicator. Airlines with discipline across departments are the most likely to succeed, just like market leader IndiGo, which has benefitted all three stakeholders: the board, employees, and passengers.
Fly Easy (India), the brand name of a Bangalore based regional airline proposed to be started by ABC Aviation and Training Services Private Limited, has called for applications for positions in ten departments in the company.
The startup-airline company had received its initial NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the aviation ministry on the 18th of January, 2012. This is five days earlier than Air Costa’s first NOC which was issued on the 23rd of January, 2012.
The initial NOC is valid for a period of 18 months, and must be renewed every six months thereafter to maintain its validity. The airline is presently in its third (3rd) renewal, and will have to apply for its fourth (4th) renewal on the 23rd of January 2015.
The airline may apply for its AOP during its 5th renewed NOC period, if all goes as per plan. However, it is uncertain if the airline has sufficient funds to start operations.
The airline reportedly has an authorised capital of INR 12 Crores. This would have been just sufficient (only to meet regulatory requirements, insufficient for operations though) to start an airline with aircraft such as the E170 and E175. However, for an airline that plans to fly the E190s (or heavier aircraft), the regulatory requirement is a minimum paid up capital (not authorized capital) of INR 30 Crores minimum. The airline’s reported authorized capital is not in agreement with the airline’s plans to fly E190 aircraft.
As of today, the airline aims for a regional scheduled operator’s permit for the Southern Region – the most lucrative region for regional operations in the country. Earlier news reports had indicated Guwahati, Amritsar and Surat as ‘priority’ destinations. The airline indicates its plans to have a fleet of Embraer E-190 aircraft. Such aircraft will help any airline tap long, thin markets that are either underserved or virgin. Aircraft with the range and capacity of an Embraer E190 (a little more than 100 seats – 112 in the case of Air Costa) gain prominence in the light of the saturation and focus of/on mature markets – Tier I routes and certain Tier III routes.
The airline’s website is up, and the brand colours, design and theme are perhaps the best amongst startup regional airlines in the country.
The airline company has an office at Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport’s Alpha 3, though the company is registered at Trivandrum, at an area just south-east of Trivandrum international airport.
The airline company has four directors – Rafi Sainulabdeen Mohammed, Rajesh Ebrahimkutty Majidha Beevi, Sanaulla Zulfiqar Ahmed Khan and a ‘Rajesh’.
As per the airline’s website, the CEO is Finn Thaulow. It is uncertain whether he is the CEO or still a CEO-designate. The approximately 60 year old Norwegian CEO was formerly with FlyMe Europe, and Syrian Pearl Airlines. During his tenure as CEO at FlyMe Sweden, the airline, which operated Boeing 737 Classics (-300 & -500), filed for bankruptcy in March 2007. The sudden closure affected numerous passengers who had purchased tickets from the airline.
In 2011, trial against FlyMe was initiated, in which the CEO, Finn Thaulow, along with three others were charged. Finn Thaulow was charged with ‘serious accounting fraud’, as reported by Gotheborg Daily- a Swedish Daily. Reportedly, the four accused ’emptied the company of 40 million kronor in the winter of 2006 through a fictitious transaction involving the purchase of shares in River Don Ltd’. At this moment, we have been unable to establish the result of the trial.
Syrian Pearl Airlines, which was founded in 2008, with Finn as the CEO, started operations in May 2009 with a BAe 146-300. The airline had entered into a ACMI (Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, Insurance) agreement with Orion Air of Spain, concerning two BAe 146 aircraft, one of which it started operations with. According to the US Department of Commerce, the agreement was a breach of US export regulations. Finn had privately appealed against a temporary denial order (TDO), stating that it was Orion Air’s responsibility for ‘obtaining all necessary licenses and governmental approvals on Orion Air before sending the two BAE 146-300 aircraft to Syria’. The airline ceased operations three months after its commencement, when the lessor Orion Air pulled out due to the US sanctions imposed on it.
Finn Thaulow was on the shortlist for Tarom’s board of directors. Tarom is the flag carrier of Romania.
Prior to FlyME, Finn was the Vice President of Alliances and Corporate partners at SAS Scandinavian Airlines – the flag carrier of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. He was also part of Spanair’s management team. Spanair, which ceased operation in 2012, was a Spanish airline, and a subsidiary of the SAS Group during Finn’s engagement.
Finn has over 25 years of aviation experience, and that may immensely benefit the airline, should it take-off.