AirAsia India’s journey so far has been interesting. What was a pleasant surprise was the airline reporting its lowest ever net loss in an operating quarter – of INR 19 Cr. This, despite Q4 being a season of low travel demand, and in the same quarter having had numerous delays and cancellations. It was also the first full quarter of three aircraft operations.
AirAsia India claims to have an attractive cost structure. In this piece, we analyse their figures for Q4 FY’15.
In the months of January, February and March 2015, AirAsia India flew 222,502 passengers. No show passengers were 15,055. These two total to 237,557 seats that were sold. No show accounted for 6% of all sold seats. Total seats flown were 300,240, and flown passenger load factor was 74% for the quarter, while seats sold load factor was 79%.
The airline carried a total of 1,620 tonnes of cargo on 1,668 flights, which averaged to 971 kg of cargo per flight – a very good number.
A total of 2,260 hours were flown in the quarter. With three aircraft, this averaged to a daily average aircraft utilisation of 8:22 hrs per aircraft per day. This low average utilisation reflects the cancellations and delays in the quarter due to crew shortage. While the airline was originally scheduled to fly 22 flights a day, the average flights per day in the three months were lower due to the same reason.
12,155 of the airline’s passengers were affected by cancellations and delays of more than two hours in the quarter.
Market share stood at a constant 1% throughout the quarter.
AirAsia India realised an operating expense of INR 95.3Cr in the quarter.
37% of AirAsia India’s costs are due to fuel. The next biggest is staff salaries which make up 25%. Lease comes next at 19%. These three together make up 80% of the airline’s costs. In this period, the airline had three aircraft: VT-ATF/ATB/RED. All three are new enough to have no maintenance issues or checks, and hence maintenance is only 3%.
Average lease cost per aircraft is INR 2 Cr per month.
AirAsia India realised an operating revenue of INR 74.4Cr in the quarter. Of this, 92% was due to passenger ticket sales, while 8% was due to ancillary revenue.
The average fare per passenger (excluding taxes and fees) for the quarter was at INR 2,884. Revenue per available seat kilometre (RASK) was at INR 2.75/seat-km, while Cost per available seat kilometre (CASK) was at INR 3.53/seat-km.
At the same load factor, average fares could have been increased by INR 878 per passenger to operationally break even.
At the same average fares, operational breakeven load factor stood at 103%.
Both figures above assume constant ancillary revenue. Ancillary revenue per flight was INR 35,320.
Average operating cost per block hour was INR 421,311 (US$ 6,600).
Average cost per kilometer flown was INR 635/km.
AirAsia’s losses are on a steady decrease. With five aircraft operating in Q1’16, better routes, and the strong travel demand, the airline may spring a surprise with its Q1 performance.
A sixth aircraft is expected to join the fleet in June. Q2’16 – a lean season- will be an interesting quarter to watch, with a mild possibility of a break even. The airline may either break even or post profits in Q3’16.
The airline added Imphal to its booking engine on 28th May 2015.
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.
The Indian MAX announcement that never came
Boeing in late 2012 had hoped to take its first order for the 737 MAX from an Indian airline. This hope was rekindled when Boeing had mentioned revealing a “sizable order” for the MAX from an Indian carrier, during the 2014 Singapore Airshow.
Twice, Boeing’s announcements never came, although media reports Jet and SpiceJet have signed for Boeing 737MAX airplanes, in the double digit range.
This is in sharp contrast to Airbus A320NEO orders placed by IndiGo and GoAir. Further widening the Airbus-Boeing gap are reports of the likelihood of IndiGo placing an order for 200-250 “more" aircraft.
Recording the largest aviation growth, Asia is where all airplane manufacturers have trained their guns. But Asia is a cost conscious market, where the likes of low cost airlines sprout often and thrive. That makes, statistically, a great market for Airbus, and a bleak outlook for Boeing, for now atleast. Few orders for Boeing 737 airplanes are overshadowed by Airbus’ wins.
A paying passenger’s experience of a mix of the good and bad of Air India, and thoughts on what gives passengers enough to talk so much about the airline, and how the airline makes things difficult for itself.
4th November saw me flying Bangalore to Bhopal via Delhi, with confirmed tickets for my return on the 8th of November.
On the 3rd, I had web-checked in, and changed my assigned 20J to 17J. The nine abreast cabin promised me the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and although I have been on board, I hadn’t got airborne on one. I was excited with the thought of experiencing the cabin’s low noise levels and comfort.
The next day, at the check in counter, the check-in staff cleared my e-ticket with seat 17J. Upon a friend’s insistence, I asked the staff if we had a Boeing 787 operating as Air India 505 to Delhi. “Yes sir, it’s a Boeing 320". “Excuse me?”. “Wait sir….it’s a…sorry…Airbus”. “How did you issue me seat 17J, then?” “Sorry sir (taking my boarding pass and scratching out my seat)…it’s 12F for you!”.
VT-EDD, a 3 year 8 month young Airbus A320 flew us from Bangalore to Delhi. The in flight meal was not palatable, and that left the tray untouched and me hungry. The cabin was tidy, but some of the in-flight entertainment screens weren’t working. Most of the seats were empty: the loads were very low, and that allowed me a “54" inch wide seat in economy: 3 X 18" seats all for myself. Upon landing at Delhi, I quickly grabbed a sandwich at Costa Coffee, and proceeded to board AI634 to Bhopal.
AI634 was operated by VT-SCI, a 6 year old Airbus A319 that was kept in a very bad state. The cabin was dirty, the wings had paint chipped off at places, and fluid stains running across the wing. The male cabin crew wasn’t very pleasant, and the “snacks" served on board wasn’t great, either.
Both flights operated on time, but the food, aircraft cleanliness (or the lack of it), and the attitude of the cabin crew left a bad taste.
On the 8th, I was at Bhopal airport, and a scheduled 18:00 local departure on AI633 to Delhi was revised to 18:35. The Bhopal-Delhi flight has a planned block time of 01:15hr. All passengers had boarded VT-PPX, a 3year 6 month old Airbus A321 part of the “Praful Patel" series of Airbus airplanes. At 18:52, cargo was still being loaded. My connecting flight to Bangalore from Delhi was scheduled to depart at 20:10: earlier than we could reach Delhi, and I was braced for some chaos at the airport.
The in-flight “snacks" consisted of two butter cookies (very good, I must say), and tea/coffee. The staff was very, very courteous. The Cabin Crew in charge managed the show very well, coordinating between the pilot and anxious passengers who had connecting flights that were scheduled to depart before we could land at Delhi. Extreme patience was shown, and nobody: neither the passengers nor the cabin crew had an opportunity to lose their cool.
Upon landing at Delhi, ground staff very clearly called out for those who were headed to Bangalore. Three ground personnel coordinated very well, taking care of 10 of us who had to make it to the Bangalore flight that was waiting just for us to board. Over the radios, the baggage’s were discussed, and although tension prevailed in their voice, they got us through service stairs out of the terminal, onto the apron and into an apron shuttle, and back up via service stairs to the airbridge that led us to VT-EDC, aged the same as VT-EDD, operating as AI504 to Bangalore.
We got in, the doors closed, the cargo was loaded, erasing all apprehensions of leaving my bags behind, and at around 20:40, we pushed out of the gate, picking up 30 minutes of delay.
On board, the staff was very patient and courteous. My IFE was working, but my earphones were missing, so I called them once. I had a terrible ear block, so I troubled the crew many a time thereafter for water that allowed me to gulp fluids and help equalize the pressure in my eustachian tube.
And oh, the meal. I was hungry like crazy, and the paneer-rice-dal combination seemed fresh and was at the right temperature. This was accompanied with vegetable salad, and an Indian sweet dish: kheer. The bun was soft, and the butter softer, making the spread easy. It was a classic AI spread, but the spread was good.
The IFE worked well. There were about 4 channels: News, A retro-Hindi film playing, the 2013 “Kai Po Che", and the 2010 “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps".
I was woken by a cabin announcement. My seat, 15A, gave me a good view. Visibility at Bangalore was excellent, and I could see the airfield (identified by the white / green beacon) flashing in the distance. A Boeing 737 could be seen on short finals, as we were somewhat on the downwind leg. There was something magical about the combination of engine noise, great visibility, and clear skies.
We landed at 23:04, with a 20 minute delay. The flight crew had enroute made up for about 10 minutes of the delay.
This time, I walked out of the airline feeling real good about the aircraft cleanliness, service, and on-board meal.
Giving food for talk.
This got me wondering: The reason my client put me on an Air India flight was because of its fares: it was the lowest, and the airline still offers some of the lowest fares. While that should be a reason to smile and not bother about anything else, the very fact that one is “entitled" to a complimentary meal / snack on board results in expectations, and if it turns out to be bad, it leaves a bad impression. When a passenger sees an in-flight entertainment screen in front of his seat, his expectation is that it must work and entertain him. The same passenger wouldn’t mind staring at a blank seat on a low-cost carrier, but when his IFE isn’t working while his co-passenger enjoys a nice movie, it leaves a bad impression. When the aircraft is dirty, the windows greasy and the seats in a bad shape, it leaves a bad impression.
Making it difficult for itself.
Air India offers some of the lowest airfares, provides in-flight meals to all at no extra cost, usually has a very courteous cabin crew (many others find them to be the best in the country, in terms of approachability and service attitude), and has a good safety record. Yet, when the freebies fail to met expectations, anti-airline sentiments set in. These freebies cost the airline money, and the passenger nothing; yet expectations are very, very human. India is a cost-conscious market: Almost all domestic passengers do not buy an airline ticket for the in-flight entertainment, cabin service, the on-board meal, or the aircraft cleanliness. What matters most, to most, is something simple: on time performance.
Probably another way in which the airline can turnaround, make money and improve passenger satisfaction? Give them lesser to expect. Knock off the IFE, and the in-flight free meals. Passengers will soon get accustomed to paying for a meal and having nothing but sleep to engage themselves with. And they will continue to fly for the low fares. If the airline competes with low cost carriers and offers low fares, it may as well change its operations to low cost.
Like IndiGo, which has nothing to offer on board, yet has absolutely clean aircraft and flies with one eye on the watch. And nobody complains.
After all, when there is nothing to expect, there is nothing to disappoint.