Air Vistara, the newest Indian airline working towards an AOP, conducted its first two proving flights on 4th and 5th December, 2014, as officially confirmed by the airline. The first flight took off from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at around 22:10IST (16:40UTC) on December 4th and landed at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at 5 minutes past midnight (00:05IST/18:35UTC) on 5th December. The return flight took off at 01:10IST (19:40UTC) and landed at Delhi at around 02:50IST (21:21UTC).
Proving flights are the last stage of a lengthy process involved in securing an Air Operator Permit (AOP). Considering that the proving flights may wrap up by 7th December, the AOP may be awarded on 15th December, after the completion of the FAA Audit of DGCA, which is hoped to be completed on the 12th December 2014. The airline may start operations early January.
When operations start, it will be the first full service carrier to be launched in a decade. Kingfisher airlines commenced operations in 2005 and no full service, pan-India carrier has since been launched.
The airline was awarded its NOC from the aviation ministry on the 3rd of April, 2014, and applied for an AOP on the 22nd of April, 2014. The eight month period between AOP application and approval is similar to the period taken to award AirAsia India’s AOP.
Vistara has two Airbus A320-232SL aircraft (A320/IAE V2527-A5 engines/Sharklet equipped) in its fleet, of which one is completed in the airline’s livery. The liveried aircraft performed the proving flight.
The airline plans to have six flights between Delhi and Mumbai in the first year of operations. Other destinations planned in the first year of services are Goa, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Srinagar, Jammu, Patna and Chandigarh. The DGCA’s Civil Aviation Policy CAP 3100 stipulates that the airline ‘will be required to conduct a minimum of 5 flight sectors on intended routes, with total duration of not less than 10 flight hours’. The Delhi – Mumbai route contributes to around 1hr 40 minutes one way, adding to 3:20hrs for both ways. The airline will have to fly another 6:40hrs. Should the airline fly Delhi-Bangalore and back, it will add around 4:40hrs. The balance 2:00hrs may be picked up by flying either to Ahmedabad or Patna and back.
The liveried aircraft, registered VT-TTB, is the first aircraft that the airline received on the 24th of September, 2014, at Toulouse. The second aircraft, registered VT-TTC, was handed over to the airline five days later, on the 29th of September, 2014. The first aircraft got its livery at Singapore, and landed back at Delhi on the 15th of October, 2014, coinciding with the 82nd anniversary of JRD Tata’s first commercial flight from Karachi to Mumbai.
Three other aircraft, registered VT-TTD, TTE, and TTF are at Toulouse, reportedly not delivered in the light of the uncertainty associated with the DGCA’s delay in granting the new airline company its Air Operator’s Permit. The fifth aircraft recently flew to Hamburg, Germany, where the cabin interiors are fitted.
The airline plans to have a fleet of current engine option (CEO) and new engine option (NEO) A320 aircraft. The first 20 Airbus aircraft are to be leased from BOC Aviation – a Bank of China company that has its origins in Singapore Airlines. The duration of the lease agreement is six years for the A320-200 CEO aircraft and twelve years for the A320-200NEO aircraft.
Since 2011, Air Pegasus has been in the news. The coverage has damaged the airline’s reputation- the managing director talked of starting operations twice, and both timelines were missed with not a single aircraft in India that was to operate under the Pegasus brand.
The airline was granted its NOC late 2011, and since then renewed twice. Most, including the DGCA, haven’t taken Air Pegasus seriously. They’d written it off as another airline that will not take to the skies.
But all that has changed. The MD and CEO of the airline, Mr. Shyson Thomas, firmly believes its his last renewal of the NOC, for he is confident of getting his AOP in September. This time around though, it’s for real.
The airline will today (Monday, 4th August) sign on the dotted line a letter of intent with a lessor, who will supply the Bangalore based Air Pegasus Private Limited two eight-and-a-half year old ATR 72-500 aircraft. The airline has two expat pilots on its rolls, one of whom landed in Bangalore in the wee hours of Saturday morning from Athens, Greece, to attend an Aviation Security (AV-SEC) training. There are six Indian captains, and eleven first officers ready to fly the first two aircraft, and twenty all-female cabin crew ready to man it.
For the first time in the history of the yet-to-become airline, lessors have reportedly been sending the airline emails, rather than the other way around. There seems to be confidence from overseas, from the likes of people who have burnt their fingers leasing aircraft to Paramount and Kingfisher. It is too early to see pictures of an ATR in the airline’s paint scheme, but once the signatures are done, two ex-Kingfisher/Deccan aircraft will be ready to start another chapter in the history of Indian aviation: an all ATR, pure-regional airline based out of Bangalore, to cater specifically to the south- a region attractive for it includes three Tier I cities and many promising, and economically important Tier II cities.
TATA-SIA’s A320-232SL (SL=sharklets), was spotted flying for the first time at Toulouse, France yesterday. The aircraft was flown with a test registration F-WWDT, and the airframe is serial number 6223.
The aircraft is to be registered as VT-TTB. The aircraft will next fly to Hamburg where it will have its cabin fitted in accordance with TATA-SIA’s preferences.
The aircraft is expected in Delhi, India by August 15th, but no later than August 20th.
The airline received its no objection certificate (NOC) from the ministry on April 2nd 2014, and applied for an air operator permit (AOP) on 22nd April 2014. On 9th July 2014, the DGCA decided to consider the AOP application of TATA-SIA, after inviting and reviewing objections and suggestions from the public.
Judging by the pace of developments and clearances at the airline, the AOP is expected by the first half of September. Considering that the Delhi High Court today adjourned the hearing of petitions filed by the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) and Subramanian Swamy against TATA-SIA and AirAsia India to September 12th, TATA-SIA may secure its AOP before the court hearing.
Once the AOP is secured, the airline may open for sales in September, and begin operations by end September / early October, subject to timely clearance of flight schedules by the DGCA.
Choice of Power.
Although TATAs have a stake in both TATA-SIA and AirAsia India, the engine chosen by the full service airline is the IAE V2527-A5, unlike the CFM56-5B6 flown by AirAsia. This particular IAE engine is similar to what IndiGo uses on its Airbus A320 aircraft, and has a higher thrust but lower bypass ratio when compared to the CFM56-5B6. As a result, the IAE engines are noisier.
Take off Thrust
*Based on FAA data. Quantified comparison omitted here as it’s too exhaustive.
IAE V2527-A5 on an IndiGo A320-232SL
Pratt and Whitney holds majority stake in the IAE venture, which was originally formed between Pratt and Whitney, Rolls Royce, MTU Aero Engines and Japanese Aero Engine Corp now has Pratt and Whitney as the major stakeholder when the United Technologies Corporation engine unit bought out Rolls Royce’s stake in October 2011.
TATA-SIA’s choice of engine was very natural. Singapore Airlines flies Boeing 777s, A380s, and A330s-all powered by Rolls Royce Engines. Singapore Airlines’ subsidiary-Silk Air-flies A320 and A319 aircraft fitted with IAE engines. Tigerair, in which Singapore Airlines has a stake, flies A320s and A319s with IAE engines.
AirAsia’s fleet mostly comprises of the A320-216 (CFM56-5B6 powered).
According to Amit Singh, Director Flight Operations at AirAsia India, the low thrust of the 5B6 translates to maintenance savings. Worldwide, CFM engines have a reputation for reliability and robustness, reportedly better than IAE’s. The CFMs are reported to offer better economics on the A320 and A319.
Although CFM has more than 55% of the classic engine market that powers the A320 aircraft, it has a lower market share in Asia Pacific. In India, presently, 93 Airbus A320 family aircraft are powered by IAE Engines, while 66 are powered by CFM engines. Of the 93 IAE powered A320 aircraft, 78 comprise IndiGo’s fleet.
Edit: Thrust ratings changed to reflect take off thrust as published by EASA.
Air Asia India receives its AOP at 6:15pm IST. Landmark in Indian Aviation. Article also counters certain incorrect and misleading statements in Business Standard.
AirAsia India received its Air Operator Permit (AOP) today, at 18:15hrs IST. The Chief Executive of the airline, Mittu Chandilya, was at Delhi to receive the AOP.
Tweeted Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Group CEO, at 18:37 IST, “History has been made today in Aviation. Everything has been hard for Airasia but we never give up. Today Airasia India has got APPROVAL.”(sic) That was followed by, “What a battle that was. proud day for me and all airasia all stars”(sic)
This development follows a tweet from AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes, on May 5th: “I think huge week for Airasia. I feel that Airasia India will be approved very soon." (sic).
AirAsia India concluded its proving flights-the last stage in the award of an AOP-on May 02, 2014. The two day-long proving flights saw the airline fly non-revenue passengers, which included airline staff and inspecting DGCA officers, to Kochi, Bangalore, and Kolkatta, from Chennai, to satisfy a March 2014 revision by the DGCA that requires an AOP applicant to fly a minimum of 5 sectors and 10 hours.
Revised Crew Remuneration
Along with this imminent AOP award today, the airline plans to upward-revise the salaries of its staff. Captains at AirAsia India reportedly are paid INR 1,60,000 (Indian Rupee One lakh Sixty Thousand) less than what IndiGo offers, per month, which results in an annual difference of INR 19,20,000. (Indian Rupee Nineteen Lakh Twenty thousand). This difference in pay was justified with the phase of the airline: non-operational.
The exact increment is unknown, but is believed to be competitive with prevailing market rates. Effective December 2013, IndiGo hiked the salaries of its pilots. Captains received a pay hike of around 15%, while that of cabin crew close to doubled. This salary increment checked the outflow of pilots from the airline.
Few pilots, who had joined AirAsia India early, left the airline to join IndiGo in light of the delays and uncertainties that surrounded the AOP, and the lower remuneration. This long drawn wait had partly demotivated some pilots, but has ensured that only the loyalists and believers are with the company when it starts operations.
However, few pilots left AirAsia India with hesitation, purely due to financial commitments.
Business Standard came out with a piece “Meet AirAsia’s multitasking pilots; they do the cargo, too”, which unfortunately is misleading and partly incorrect.
All pilots can carry out checks known as transit checks, between flights. There is no necessity for an engineer to be involved with this check unless an issue requires rectification. Pilots are usually not authorized to rectify the issue. Pilots in every airline perform a “walk-around” to check the aircraft before departure, to look for signs of visible damage, such as worn tires, or from bird hits. If everything looks fine, no action is required. However, if something is out of place, an engineer’s opinion, involvement and clearance is required.
Such transit checks add an extra level of safety, and are practiced world over.
As far as Cabin crew are concerned, no cabin crew will be expected to perform the load and trim sheet. Errors in the load and trim are unforgivable, with fatal consequences. The cabin crew will perform only those duties which are required of them: cabin safety. Sources in the airline deny the cabin crew being involved with ticketing, and load & trim sheets. However, AirAsia Bhd cabin crew check the boarding passes at the apron entrance, while here, that check might be performed by cabin crew at the entrance to the aircraft, possibly at the foot of the air-stairs.
No pilot or cabin crew will handle the cargo, as suggested by the title of the BS story.
Not all flights have a turnaround time of 30-35 minutes. SpiceJet targets 20 minutes on some of its Q400 flights. Air Costa targets 20minutes on its Embraer E170s and 25 minutes on its E190s. The 25 minutes that AirAsia India targets will, however, be the best for a Boeing 737 or an A320 in India. 20 minutes, however, seems too optimistic.
Indian budget carriers achieve more than 12 block hours, contrasting what was reported. GoAir presently has the best aircraft utilisation in the country, with some of its airplanes flying patterns that start at 05:20AM and land at 12:50AM: a good 19hrs30min every day, picking up a total block time of 14hr15min daily. AirAsia India will not be the only airline to efficiently utilise its aircraft, though with a 20-25 minute turnaround, 16hrs block time is achievable, and may set a record in India.
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.
Highlight: AirAsiaIndia to receive AirAsia Japan’s aircraft; First aircraft expected in a few days, in India, for proving flights; Air Operator Certificate to be awarded soon; AirAsia Japan: The cause for its failure and why AirAsia India may not follow the same downpath.
On the 21st of July, 2011, 2 years and 3 months ago, ANA Group, Japan’s largest airline, and AirAsia, the world’s best low cost airline, announced that they were teaming up to form AirAsia Japan, a new low-cost carrier.
ANA was, for a while, seeking opportunities to launch a new low-cost business based at Narita. The Japanese are known to enjoy the finer, more expensive things in life, and to offer the population a new product: low cost, no frills air travel, while still managing to draw the crowds wasn’t, singlehandedly, going to be an easy thing to do. After much study, ANA concluded that partnering with an existing low-cost carrier was the most efficient, strategically advantageous option.
With the Air-Asia partnership, and success almost guaranteed, the joint venture established Air Asia Japan Co. Ltd. in the August of 2011, with ANA holding 51% and AirAsia 49% of the capital. However, Air-Asia’s voting right share was only 33%. The schedule was to apply for the Air Operator’s permit in September-October of the same year, with the first flight planned for the August of 2012, almost a year after applying for the AOC, also known as the AOP (Permit).
In June 2012, the airline took delivery of its first new A320: MSN 5153, followed by another new A320 in July. True to its word, the airline commenced operations on the 1st of August, 2012. 3 more new A320s followed over the next few months, of which 2 are equipped with fuel-saving Sharklets.
11 months after starting operations, Air Asia called off the joint venture, and ANA acquired AirAsia’s entire stake in Air Asia Japan for 2.45 billion yen.
AirAsia Japan booked an operating loss of about US$ 36 Million, for the financial year ending March 2013. This was a shock for Air Asia, as quoting Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia Berhad, “All our other affiliates have made money". The other affiliates are Indonesia AirAsia, Philippines AirAsia, and Thai AirAsia.
AirAsia had a meek voice in the joint-venture, with only 33% voting share, with the decision making power in the hands of a full-service, world class yet inefficient airline: ANA. Two other low cost carriers (LCC) that kicked off in 2012 are Peach and Jetstar Japan, both of which are run by the larger voice of partner airlines that have been solely in the LCC Business.
AirAsia couldn’t implement the strategies that have proved successful in other JVs. This resulted in load factors not more than 70%, and as low as 56% in April 2013. Japanese aviation is known for its sky-high landing fees and fuel taxes, and this would have only resulted in Break Even Load Factors (BELF) that are high, making AirAsia Japan bleed with its poor load factors.
One of AirAsia’s key strategies is the large reliance on online bookings. This was a sudden change in the way in which an airline works in Japan, contrasting the population’s familiarity and comfort with booking through agents. This was a contributory reason for the airline’s poor acceptance. Complicating the matter was an online booking system that wasn’t completely translated to Japanese.
In January 2013, to control damage, the airline introduced “Other Payment options available for flights departing from Japan". “It means that you can make payment via selected Convenience Store, ATM and Internet Banking." Such flexible options aren’t available in all countries.
The problems with partnering with a Full Service Carrier (FSC) was evident. For example, ANA needed the cabin door to be opened by an engineer, and not by a cabin crew member. This, like other practices only added to costs. Both the partners squabbled over the airline’s strategy: running a LCC in a non- low-cost mode.
What AirAsia Japan means for AirAsia India
AirAsia Japan, although now without AirAsia involved, is operating under the Airasia Japan brand, but only till the 26th of October, 2013. 1st November onward, the airline, rebranded as Vanilla Air, will take flight with Airbus A320s from ANA. AirAsia’s A320s will be returned to AirAsia.
Of the 5 Airbus A320s received by AirAsia Japan, one has been sent to Air Asia Indonesia. Of the remaining 4 new Airbus A320s, two will make their way to AirAsia India, probably MSN 5547 and MSN 5657, the ones with the Sharklets, a necessity for operations in a country with very high fuel prices.
One of these Airbus A320s is expected in India in late October 2013 for proving flights. (see next section)
AirAsia Japan possibly suffered from a de-focused Tony, who had too much in his hand, in the light of massive A320 orders and the launch of Air Asia Philippines, which commenced operations in March 2012. While one of the failures for AirAsia Japan was the high fuel prices, it does not mean that AirAsia India will walk down the failed joint-venture’s path.
AirAsia India is a three-member JV in which AirAsia holds 49% stake, Tata Sons hold 30% and Arun Bhatia holds the remaining 21% stake. This gives Tony and his team the much needed voice for the success of his airline, which, after his AirAsia Japan experience, is something he will not compromise on.
Even more essential for success is the co-operation required by partners to fall in line with most of AirAsia’s proven strategies, as demonstrated by its other profit making AirAsia joint ventures. Tweeted Tony, in late September 2013,“First AirAsia India board meeting. Superb cooperation between partners.". Not having an airline in the joint venture will mean that AirAsia can pretty much run the show in the way it deems best.
Another lesson learnt is the limited distribution system that had impacted Air Asia’s performance. AirAsia has spent considerable effort with online and offline travel agents throughout India. Although the country is not new to website bookings, having ticketing agents boosts sales, roping the otherwise tech-shy or tech-challenged traveller.
The DGCA (India) Air Operator Certification Manual, CAP3100 Revision 0 August 2013 stipulates that during the demonstration and inspection phase prior to certification (Air Operator Certificate), “the applicant needs to demonstrate to the DGCA that the applicant is in a position to conduct the proposed operations in accordance with the procedures detailed in the documents/manuals reviewed during the previous phase utilizing the personnel/facilities/equipment identified in the formal application." If the DGCA is satisfied with the airline’s personnel, staff, equipment and arrangements, “proving flight(s) will be conducted to one or more destinations of intended operations, as determined by the DGCA.".
A proving flight is a flight, for demonstration purposes to the authority, and must be treated as a scheduled flight and conducted in a manner similar to a revenue flight, with full services and personnel in accordance with the procedures spelt out in the airline’s Operations Manual.
A proving flight is the last stage before the review and award of an Air Operator Certificate / Permit.
Start of Operations: AirAsia India
AirAsia Japan took a year to start operations, after applying for the AOP. AirAsia India filed for its AOP on 6th October, 2013, and is expected to receive the permit by mid-November. On starting operations, Tony said, “I would anticipate maybe April or May next year (2014) but I don’t really know". Going by AirAsia Japan’s timelines, Air Asia India may start operations no later than July 2014. Philippines AirAsia commenced operations almost 2 months after receiving its Air Operator’s Permit.
In control of the venture, Tony is “confident we will make profits in the first year and change aviation". So confident is Tony that, “I know when we go in, it would be great and change Indian aviation forever”.
Although the team is sailing on choppy waters due to Tata’s decision to partner with Singapore Airlines to start an international airline, the outcome of a continued disagreement, which may witness Arun Bhatia buying out Tata’s stake, will not hamper operations and strategies of the airline due to the large share of Tony-controlled AirAsia Berhad. Arun Bhatia’s Telstra Tradeplace is neither an airline, nor was in the airline business, until now.
Said Tony, reflective of possibly never again partnering with an airline, “ANA looked like one sexy woman: really nice, said all the nice things. And when we got to bed, it was a horrible experience. So we had a quick divorce."