Air Costa on Saturday the 19th, received its third Embraer E190 at Ammam, Jordan. The aircraft’s original lessor is GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), and the aircraft previously flew for Saudi’s Flynas. The aircraft is one of two E190s earlier destined for another southern regional yet-to-start airline in India. Both airplanes, MSN 217 and MSN 233 have now been leased by Air Costa. Both aircraft are aged 7 years, and configured with 110 seats in a single class.
The first aircraft, which will be registered VT-LPB, is expected to tomorrow (21st December) fly into Delhi. Air Costa presently operates two E190s, MSN 593 and MSN 608, which are the E190 STD variant. The ones from Flynas are the E190 LR variant, which have a maximum take-off weight that is 2,500 kg heavier, allowing it up to 900 km (500 nautical miles) longer range when compared to the E190 STD, when flying with a load of 100 passengers.
The first of the two E190STD aircraft is expected to enter service on the 26th of December, 2015. On the 25th, Air Costa’s E190STD VT-LVR (MSN 608) will fly out to Jordan for scheduled heavy maintenance. The maintenance-bound aircraft will operate a special Chennai-Bengaluru flight LB712, before proceeding to Jordan. The active fleet at the airline will remain at 3 aircraft, until VT-LVR returns from maintenance, to take the fleet to 4 active aircraft. In November, the airline returned one of its 67 seat E170s (VT-LSR / MSN 278), which took the active fleet down to 3 aircraft. The other E170’s (VT-LNR / MSN 293) lease contract was extended by another nine months. The third E190 will therefore result in no net additions to Air Costa’s fleet size.
Activities such as return of aircraft, and scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of aircraft have led to numerous flight cancellations that threaten profitability in the peak season. Air Costa had last year reported a modest profit in the month of December. Fuel prices have fallen, since then.
Air Costa recently received a no objection from the Ministry towards securing a pan India air operator permit (AOP). According to news sources, Air Costa plans to induct the fourth E190 in February 2016, and commence pan India operations in April 2016. By then, the airline will have a fleet of 5 active aircraft. The airline completes 30 months of operations in March 2016.
Air Costa today flew only one aircraft, its Embraer E190 registered VT-LVR. VT-LNR, the lone Embraer E170 in Air Costa’s fleet operated its last commercial flight yesterday. Sistership VT-LSR was flown to Lisbon and returned to the lessor on 22nd November.
The E170 will be tomorrow (28th November) be flown to Jordan’s capital, Ammam, as its lease comes to an end.
Today, Air Costa operated only 8 flights: MAA-AMD-BLR-JAI-BLR-HYD-BLR-AMD-MAA, resulting in the cancellation of 28 flights.
The airline was supposed to have resumed operations of its other E190, VT-LBR, today (27th November). However, the aircraft is on its return from Jordan at the time of writing this. VT-LBR is flying into Bengaluru, from where it will operate a non-commercial ferry to Chennai early next morning, from where it will operate scheduled flights.
From tomorrow (28th November) onwards, Air Costa is expected to operate 16 flights a day, with 2 Embraer E190s. The MAA-HYD-VTZ-BLR-VTZ-HYD-MAA-JAI-MAA pattern, which was suspended since 16th November, will be resumed.
With the return of the E170, flights to Coimbatore, Tirupati and Vijayawada remain suspended till 4th December.
The airline’s website reflects flights on the VGA-BLR-CJB-HYD-VGA-HYD-TIR-HYD-CJB-BLR-VGA pattern available from 5th December. This pattern will be operated by the Embraer E190, suggesting that the E190s are expected by the 5th of December.
However, the 4th pattern for the E190s could not be determined.
The airline may perhaps not be able to secure its pan-India AOP until the 5th Embraer E190 is inducted into its fleet.
Air Costa’s flight cancellations in the month of November has been very high, and may have the highest cancellation rate among all airlines for the month.
Saudi Arabian airline Nas Air, which was later re-branded as Flynas, operated 6 110 seat Embraer E190LRs and 4 118 seat Embraer E195s, but ceased operations of the regional jet a while ago, as the airline transitioned to an Airbus A320 fleet. Of the six E190s, all leased from GECAS, two aircraft, with manufacturer serial number (MSN) 217 and 233 were reportedly to be leased to Bengaluru based FLYeasy, which is yet to obtain its Air Operator Permit (AOP).
Google Earth satellite imagery dated 15th September 2015 of the Jordan Aircraft Maintenance Company (JorAMCO) facility (see the highlighted portion in the image above) at the Queen Alia International Aiport at Jordan’s capital Ammam shows two Embraer E190 aircraft painted in what definitely appears as Flyeasy’s livery. Earlier satellite imagery dated 17th June 2015 shows one E190 in Nasair colors, and one E190 in Flyeasy’s colors parked at the JorAMCO facility.
The Flyeasy livery is very evident in the images, with the dark green winglets, dark green engines, and the dark green paint that follows the vertical stabiliser down to the bottom of the fuselage.
Air Costa’s 112 seat E190 registered VT-LBR, leased from GECAS, today flew into JorAMCO for scheduled maintenance.
Below are zoomed in images of the aircraft, and below that the embedded map. Please click on the image to view in full resolution.
Air Costa, which used to operate 32 daily flights to 9 destinations, will be operating 18 flights to 8 destinations starting today, 16th November, till 26th November, as the airline’s fleet temporarily reduces to just 2 aircraft – one 67 seat Embraer E170 and one 112 seat Embraer E190. No sale of flights on one of the patterns (MAA-HYD-VTZ-BLR-VTZ-HYD-MAA-JAI-MAA) was noticed on the airline’s website. This leads to VTZ not being temporarily served by Air Costa.
VT-LSR, one of the two Embraer E170s, has been pulled out of operations due to the planned return of the aircraft to its lessor. VT-LBR, one of the two Embraer E190s, operated a special Chennai-Bengaluru flight LB709 (the first 7xx flight number for the airline), which is a ferry flight turned commercial flight, before heading off for scheduled maintenance to Jordan via Muscat. This leaves only two airplanes – VT-LNR (E170) and VT-LVR (E190) in the active fleet in the short term.
In contrast to Air Costa cancelling flights, AirAsia India, which presently has one of its Airbus A320 airplanes (VT-BLR) at Hyderabad for scheduled maintenance (Since 1st November), has not allowed operations to be impacted. The airline, which recently received its 6th aircraft (VT-APJ), continues to fly 5 patterns with 5 active aircraft. VT-BLR is expected to return from maintenance today to allow VT-APJ to fly to Delhi to operate additional frequencies on existing routes, from tomorrow. (Edit: VT-BLR flew to Delhi late this morning, and will take on Delhi flights from tomorrow).
Air Costa, India’s first regional jet airline, turns 2 tomorrow (15th October 2015). The airline, which is the second airline in India after the now defunct Paramount Airways to operate the Embraer E170s, is terminating lease on the aircraft, making Air Costa perhaps the last Indian operator to employ the 70-80 seat regional jet.
The airline’s two Embraer E170s, registered VT-LSR & VT-LNR, were the first two airplanes for the airline, leased from Embraer’s ECC leasing. The aircraft earlier flew for Gulf Air, which had fitted the cabin with 67 seats : 7 business and 60 economy. The aircraft can pack in a maximum of 78 seats in a single class configuration.
The airline has cancelled up to 4 flights owing to one of the two E170s (VT-LSR) being returned in November. As of today, out of the 32 daily flights the airline used to operate to 9 destinations, it presently operates 25-26 flights. This is further expected to go down to around 15 – 16 flights per day in the next 10 days. When two new Embraer E190s are inducted, the airline will resume the flights previously operated by the E170s starting 1st Dec 2015.
Due to this, Air Costa does not seem to sell for, and operate certain E170 sectors between 25th Oct and 30th Nov (as per the website), till these are operated by the replacement aircraft, an Embraer E190, 1st Dec onwards. These sectors are captured in the table on the left. The airline has opened sales for these sectors for travel December 1st onward.
The airline does not seem to sell (indefinitely, as per the website) the E170 sectors operated by the other aircraft. These include:
Vijayawada <> Hyderabad
Vijayawada <> Chennai
Vijayawada <> Vishakapatnam
Chennai <> Hyderabad (Daily)
Frequencies on routes such as Bengaluru<>Vijayawada has halved.
Air Costa’s two other aircraft – Embraer E190s registered VT-LBR & VT-LVR, leased from GECAS, shall remain in the fleet, one of which would be going for a scheduled maintenance in mid-November. The Embraer E190 is a money maker for the airline, and Air Costa is using the asset to its strength. The 2 E170s will be replaced with 2 E190s in the next 3 months.
Based on studies by The Flying Engineer, small capacity regional jets of less than 100 seats have limited relevance in the Indian market, today. A great way to capture the market is to complement the Airbus A320 / Boeing 737s (180 seat airplanes) with an aircraft of nearly 50% – 60% capacity, making the Embraer E190 with 114 seats (maximum) an ideal airplane for routes with insufficient demand for a 180 seat airplane.
Air Costa will be able to connect Tier II and Tier III cities across the country with any Tier I city once its air operator permit (AOP) is converted from a scheduled southern regional airline to a scheduled (pan-India) airline operator permit. This change of AOP is expected to happen soon. However, the airline’s network will continue to be focused on the regional segment, but at a pan-India level.
With the airline demerging from other projects of the parent company, Air Costa is ready to attract external investments into the airline. It plans to induct 4 aircraft every year, from 2016. By 2018, the airline plans to have a minimum fleet of 12 aircraft and fly to 18 stations.
Air Costa presently operates to 9 destinations. A major network change is expected in light of the change in fleet. Bhubaneswar, Pune, Guwahati, Indore, Patna and Bhopal are expected to be added to the network when the fleet size touches 8.
Air Costa, the Vijayawada based regional airline, has realized an operating profit in the month of December, 2014.
ATF sales tax at Andhra Pradesh, which was reduced to 1% from 16%, has positively benefited the airline. Three out of four aircraft rotation patterns have at least one stop at Andhra Pradesh, which allows the airline to tanker fuel out of the state. The Embraer E170s, which used to pay a flat sales tax of 4%, now pay only 1% within the state and 4% outside the state.
The airline’s tie up with Sovika Group to carry a target of 500 tonnes of cargo a month in the unused belly space of the aircraft has also contributed to the airline’s revenue stream via ancillary revenues starting December. It is estimated that the airline makes around INR 1 Cr per month for 500 tonnes of cargo.
The airline flies 34 flights a day between 15 city pairs, connecting 9 stations with four Embraer E Jets – two 112 seat E190s and two 67 seat E 170s. Of these, the airline enjoys a monopoly on three pairs: Jaipur-Chennai, Tirupati – Vishakhapatnam, and Vijayawada-Vishakhapatnam sectors, and a duopoly on five others. On the other sectors, the airline enjoys competition from just two other airlines. Two out of 15 routes are Tier II – Tier II city pairs, while just two city pairs are Tier I – Tier I. The other 11 are Tier I – Tier II city pairs : the market that has the highest growth potential. The airline stopped flying the Bangalore- Chennai sector – a short, crowded sector that is not suited for a 100 seat regional jet in the light of stiff competition especially from economical 70-80 turboprops and higher capacity Boeing 737-800 and A320 aircraft. While the turboprop is the right sized aircraft with favorable economics, for jet aircraft, this sector is unviable. However, deploying a Boeing 737-800 or an A320 on this sector can be commercially managed through low airfares that fill up an entire aircraft to break even. The E190 cannot compete due to its very significantly higher operating costs than an turboprop and its higher cost per seat compared to a mainline jet, on such a short, already crowded sector.
The network has been restructured to eliminate unprofitable routes and unfavourable patterns.
It is also possible that the disruptions faced by SpiceJet across its network could have benefited Air Costa. The airline shares two duopoly sectors with SpiceJet and three other sectors with SpiceJet and other airlines.
Another important factor that would have contributed to Air Costa’s profit is the high demand for domestic air travel in December. Tirupati, for instance, is preferred by many in December due to the favorable weather and the coincidence with the holiday season.
When compared to the 2014 Summer schedule, the airline has stopped flying five city pairs and added four city pairs. The most notable change has been in the drop in the number of Chennai connections. Connections to Chennai from Coimbatore, Bangalore, and Vijayawada have been snapped. Madurai as a destination was dropped soon after opening. The connection between Hyderabad and Jaipur has been snapped. The frequency of flights between Hyderabad and Chennai have dropped from 3 flights a day each way to just one.
Tirupati was opened towards late September. Direct Hyderabad – Coimbatore, Hyderabad – Tirupati, and Tirupati – Visakhapatnam sectors were commenced, and the Hyderabad – Vijayawada frequency was doubled.
Air Costa has stopped its three / four way routes : Bangalore – Jaipur – Hyderabad – Chennai (and the return), and Bangalore – Ahmedabad – Chennai (and the return), replacing these with direct Bangalore – Jaipur-Bangalore, Bangalore – Ahmedabad – Bangalore, Chennai – Ahmedabad – Chennai, and Chennai – Jaipur – Chennai routes.
Flights & Utilisation
From 40 planned flights a day in summer ’14, the airline today flies 34 flights a day, dropping routes that were unprofitable.
Compared to the Summer schedule, the aircraft utilisation has dropped, from an average of 12:53hrs to 11:42hrs per aircraft, a drop of 1:11hrs. E170s, which were planned for 11:00 -11:25hrs in summer presently are utilised to 9:45hrs-10:00hrs a day. E190s, which were planned for 14:30hrs -14:40hrs a day in summer today fly for 12:50hrs – 14:15hrs.
Chennai, from 10 departures a day as per the summer’14 schedule, has reduced to just three. Bangalore and Hyderabad have the highest departures – seven a day. It may be prudent for Air Costa to shift its E190 aircraft base from Chennai to Bangalore both in light of its importance and the benefits handed out by Bangalore Kempegowda International Airport for operators who station 50% or more of their fleet in the city and fly more than a million passengers annually through the airport.
Presently, Air Costa flies a total of about 26,000 passengers into and out of Bangalore, every month. The E190s contribute to about 17,500 passengers per aircraft per month. Should 4 additional E190s be stationed at Bangalore to fly point to point routes out of Bangalore, then the airline will cross 1 million passengers movements per annum at Bangalore.
According to earlier plans, the airline was to have received the 5th E190 (7th aircraft) in December 2014.
In a move that is seen by many industry insiders as beneficial to Air Costa, Vivek Choudhary, a young and dynamic 33 year old has today taken over the reins at the airline, as its Chief Financial officer (CFO) and Chief Commercial Officer (CCO).
Vivek has a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Computer Science from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) in Finance and marketing, from the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode. He started his career as a Business Analyst at GMR Group, where he got his first taste of the aviation sector, in the field of airport infrastructure. He later moved onto PVP Ventures, and quickly climbed the ladder to the post of Vice President, Pioneer Group, and later, Vice President of PVP Ventures. He was also a partner at NITSA VIDAE Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd.: a Business Consulting firm focused on Market research, Project Feasibility Studies, Valuation Studies and the whole cycle of Fund raising. His involvement in these fields makes him ideally suited to understand the very subjects that airlines both revolve around, and are plagued with, especially in a country that is hostile to this sector.
In April 2010, Vivek joined LEPL Projects Limited as Vice President – Corporate Finance. Vivek was instrumental in the setup, and planning of Air Costa, from the days when it was just an idea, and has lived through the red-tapism, bureaucracy and frustration that any startup airline will go through, more so when it is not an offshoot of an already established airline brand. He and his team studied the airline market and made strong attempts to avoid the mistakes of other airlines. Yet, the regional nature of the airline throws open a different battlefield, where the rules of the game may have to be twisted, in part: a challenge when an airline is the first of its kind in recent years, and inexperienced.
The Flying Engineer had an opportunity to interact with Mr. Vivek, and was pleasantly surprised to find a financial officer very well versed with the technical terms, jargon, and nuances in the world of aviation. Vivek is beyond financial: he has a keen eye and an unquenchable thirst for the technical aspects of aviation. He is weak on show and strong on performance.
These perceived qualities make Vivek the ideal candidate for the role of the Chief Officer-Financial and Commercial. He will be guided and assisted by a few former Finnair executives.
In the words of the director-regional business development of a leading aircraft manufacturer, “We need more Viveks in this country. He understands the subject. He’s willing to learn. He sees what others miss. And that can make all the difference”.
We wish the soft spoken, humble, and attention-shy young gentleman all the very best in steering India’s youngest airline towards profitable routes and smooth operations.
Air Costa has cancelled a significant number of flights listed in its approved Summer Schedule. As a startup airline with a different model, it faces issues on many fronts: one of which is an insufficient number of sufficiently qualified pilots to fly its four airplanes: two Embraer E170s and two Embraer E190s.
The sectors affected are those that are operated by its smaller Embraer E170 aircraft-with a seating capacity of 67 each: Vijayawada <-> Hyderabad, Chennai <-> Madurai, Chennai <-> Vijayawada, Vijayawada <-> Vishakhapatnam, Chennai <-> Coimbatore, Coimbatore <-> Bangalore, Bangalore <-> Vijayawada, Bangalore <-> Hyderabad, and some of the Bangalore <-> Chennai and Hyderabad <-> Chennai flights.
The Embraer E170s fly the shorter, thinner southern routes, while the E190s fly the longer, and thicker routes northbound out of the southern region, to Ahmedabad and Jaipur, connecting these cities to Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Chennai. The E190s also fly between Chennai <->Hyderabad, and Chennai <-> Bangalore, and connect Vishakhapatnam to Bangalore and Hyderabad.
The E170s account for 22 flights a day, or 55% of the airline’s daily flights.
The airline is tackling the situation by phone-calling each and every affected customer, explaining the situation and offering a full refund, contrasting a situation in late 2011 when the DGCA had pulled up IndiGo, SpiceJet, and the then-operational Kingfisher Airlines for having allegedly cancelled flights without informing passengers. Although the airline seems to maintain a low key when it comes to publicity, this act seems to highlight the airline’s customer focus: something no airline can afford to ignore, especially at the start-up phase of an airline.
Customer focus and on time performance are key factors for many passengers when choosing between airlines that offer matching fares.
Air Costa’s commercial flight operations commenced on 14th October 2013, exactly 6 months ago. The start-up phase, and the fact that the airline is the only operator of the Embraer E170/E190 airplanes in India, makes this a very challenging period for the airline.
The Reason: Pilot Shortage
The airline presently has 22 pilots qualified to fly on the E170/E190 airplanes. Typically, an airline requires 10 pilots per aircraft, or 5 sets of crew per airplane. With 22 pilots, there are enough to fly just 2 aircraft, leaving the two other airplanes with no crew.
The airline has chosen to fly the E190 airplanes, as its utilization on its network is much higher: 14.5hrs a day, which is upto nearly 2.5hours more than the E170s. Besides, the E190 with 112 seats in an all-economy cabin has a lower operational cost per seat, when compared to the E170.
The airline had planned for a sufficient number of pilots to fly the routes in the summer schedule, starting 5th April 2014, but that plan didn’t materialize. 8 foreign commanders were supposed to have cleared the Foreign Aircrew Temporary Authorization (FATA) examination-an exam conducted by the Indian DGCA to ensure foreign pilots are up to speed with Indian regulations- at least 15 days before Air Costa was to have kicked off its full network under the Summer Schedule. However, the crew did not clear the examination, which is held fortnightly.
Another 21 pilots will be joining the airline in a week, of which are the 8 FATA licence holders. The other 13 type rated pilots are Indians, of which 7 are commanders and 6 first officers. Recently, the airline hired 40 commercial pilots with no previous airline experience. Ground classes for these pilots are in progress at Vijayawada, before they’re sent for their Embraer E170/190 type rating. The type rating program may very likely be conducted at Jordan.
Flights under the approved summer schedule are expected to commence shortly, once the 21 pilots are available.
Air Costa is finding it difficult to have a sufficient number of qualified flight deck crew who may remain on standby, and also faces a shortage of examiners, who are instrumental in the release of Indian commanders and first officers. The airline is the only operator of the Embraer E170/190 family of airplanes, while every Indian other airline flies Boeing 737NGs and Airbus A320 family airplanes, eliminating the possibility of poaching experienced and ready-to-fly-on-type pilots.
The airline plans to add another 3 Embraer E190 aircraft to the fleet, one each in the months of August, October and December. As the fleet and flight crew members grown in number, the airline is expected to be less affected by such operational issues.
One of Air Costa’s two Embraer E170s developed a windshield crack when operating into Bangalore, today, forcing the airplane to stay on ground for a few days till the windshield is replaced. To prevent disruption in operations, one of the E190s will be pulled into commercial service. Air Costa’s E190s seat 112 passengers in a single class, 45 more than their dual-class E170s.
The E190, registered VT-LBR, operated the Air Costa LB649 Hyderabad (ICAO: VOHS, IATA: HYD) – Jaipur (ICAO: VIJP, IATA: JAI) flight, marking the first commercial flight in India involving an Embraer E190. The flight, scheduled to depart at 14:05hrs IST, departed at 15:24hrs IST, picking up a 01:19hr delay due to the unforeseen pull-out of the E190 from parking into line operations, and the pull-out of the E170 from line ops.
The E190s were expected to be inducted into commercial service on 5th April, 2014. This bittersweet incident marks another milestone in Indian regional aviation, while also serving to emphasize how at the start-up phase of an airline, when the fleet is small, the non-availability of one aircraft can have significant operational ramifications.
Air Costa plans to stand out from the competition with its fares, connectivity, and unmatched cabin seating convenience and comfort.
Air Costa yesterday received the approval from the DCGA to fly the Embraer E190s. Air Costa is the first airline in the history of Indian aviation to operate Embraer E190s. The airline started operations in October 2013 with two Embraer E170s.
The two Embraer ERJ E190s, with manufacturer serial numbers 593 and 608, registered VT-LBR, VT-LVR respectively, were delivered to Air Costa towards the second half of December 2013, and are leased from GECAS. However, the approval to fly the E190s arrived only 3 months later, due to exhaustive DGCA paperwork, some of which related to getting the aircraft type approved in India. The airplanes have been parked at Hyderabad-Shamshabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International (ICAO: VOHS IATA: HYD).
The two Embraer E190s are expected to be deployed into commercial service in the first week of April, and will fly the longer routes in the approved summer schedule. Since the ERJ 190’s license endorsement, as recognized by the DGCA, is “EMB170”, and common with the ERJ 170, pilots in the airline can fly both aircraft variants.
The E190s will be based at Chennai, and will be deployed on the following sectors: Chennai-Ahmadabad, Ahmadabad-Bangalore, Bangalore-Jaipur, Jaipur-Hyderabad, Hyderabad-Chennai, Chennai-Bangalore, Bangalore-Vishakhapatnam, Vishakhapatnam – Hyderabad.
Each aircraft will start operations at 0600hrs IST, and fly till 2340hrs IST, accumulating a total of 29 block hours per day over 18 flights, representing 56% of the entire fleet’s utilization. The E190s will be utilized approximately 30% more than the E170.
The Embraer E190s are an all-economy four abreast-single aisle cabin, with 112 seats laid out over 28 rows, with a 29/30-inch seat pitch (some seats will have a comfortable pitch of 30 inches, while the others will have 29 inches). Each of the seats are as wide as 18.25 inches, armrest-armrest, which is a good 1.25inches wider (and more comfortable) than the seats on SpiceJet’s Boeing 737s, and IndiGo, GoAir and Air Asia India’s Airbus A320s, which are all 17 inches wide. In addition, there are no middle seats: only either window or aisle, making the overall experience very comfortable. This comfort will make the airline’s product a preferred one, among regional airlines, today.
The 112 seat E-190 has 62% the capacity of an Airbus A320, which the airline feels is the right capacity for the markets they serve today. Another 4 E190s are expected to join the fleet this year.
Air Costa has been flying the E-170s with load factors greater than 70%.
Embraer has signed a definitive agreement with Air Costa for a firm order for 50 E-Jets E2s with an additional 50 purchase rights. The acquisition is a mix of 25 E190-E2s and 25 E195-E2s and has an estimated value of USD 2.94 billion based on 2014 list prices.
Air Costa has become the first customer of E-Jet E2s in the Indian market and will take delivery of the E190-E2 in 2018. The E195-E2 is scheduled to enter service in 2019. Today, the airline flies four E-Jets: two E170s (VT-LNR, VT-LSR) and two E190s (VT-LBR, VT-LVR).
According to an Embraer press release, “The three new airplanes (E175-E2, E190-E2, and E195-E2) have geared turbofan engines from Pratt & Whitney, new aerodynamically advanced wings, full fly-by-wire flight controls, and advancements in other systems that will deliver double-digit improvements in fuel burn, maintenance costs, emissions, and external noise compared to current-generation E-Jets."
While there may have been numerous mobile-phone camera pictures of Air Costa aircraft in India, here is the first good publicly available shot of an Air Costa Embraer 170 in Indian markings. VT-LSR was caught on lens (JP.net and A.net acceptances pending, AP.net accepted) by the skilled teenager Karthik Kumar , who woke up early on the 18th of October, 2013, to head out to Bangalore International Airport (VOBL), to position himself for a good shot of VT-LSR, manufacturer Serial Number MSN 278, operating as Air Costa 601 (LB 601) into Bangalore from Vijayawada.
VT-LSR, an EMB 170AR, was fprmerly registered A9C-MA, operating with Gulf Air. The airplane’s age is about 3 years 7 months, and has been leased from ECC Leasing. ECC Leasing Company Ltd, a 100% subsidiary of Embraer, was established in September 18, 2002 to manage and re-market Embraer´s pre-owned aircraft.
Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting to you the Embraer E-170 beautifully adorned in the colors of Air Costa, a regional airline that heralds a new chapter in Indian regional aviation. Click on the image to enjoy the photo in full 1200pix wide – size.
Air Costa has inaugurated their flight services by landing at Bangalore (BLR, VOBL) at 07:45IST, operating as flight LB601 from Vijayawada (VGA, VOBZ). This marks a new chapter in the history of Indian Regional Aviation.
The flight was operated by VT-LNR, An Embraer 170AR, with manufacturer serial number MSN 293. Reportedly, LB601 did not operate with an airline call-sign, but rather the registration itself. Radio calls were made as “Victor Tango Lima November Romeo”, not the shortened “Victor November Romeo”. Bangalore International Airport (Kempegowda International Airport) does not yet list the flight or the airline on their website.
We congratulate Air Costa on inaugurating their scheduled regional services. This marks the beginning of a new chapter in Indian regional aviation.
Note to spotters:Not being visible on FR24, Tracking MSN 293 may be difficult as the aircraft does not seem to have an ADS-B out enabled Mode-S transponder.
An Air Costa EMB 170 prepares for its test flight at Chennai (14th October 2013)
This article talks of Air Costa’s peculiarities, as well as the costs on a particular sector and the market potential associated with that sector.
Peculiarities and Image-damage
Air Costa’s newspaper advertisement that appeared in leading dailies, on October 13th
Air Costa, which has been making the waves as a regional carrier with many peculiarities, including first class seats, added one more today, by achieving a 0% on time performance, on it’s launch date.
As was conveyed to the media a week ago, and published on their website, Air Costa was to have both launched and inaugurated its services today, by flying the Vijayawada-Bangalore sector. All other sectors have been mentioned as starting from 15th October, 2013.
Air Costa planned to inaugurate its regional air connectivity on the 14th of October, 2013, to coincide with the supposedly auspicious day of Dussehra. The usual 06:45IST departure and 07:45IST arrival was changed to a 10:30IST departure and a 11:30IST arrival to stay clear of a particular inauspicious time of the day.
But to the dismay of many spotters, who made their way to BIAL to catch the Embraer through their lens, it didn’t turn up. Bangalore briefing was contacted, and a spotter was told that there was no flight plan received for an “Air Costa flight 601”.
While start-up hiccups are understandable, calling for a press-meet and then changing plans without notification is operationally acceptable but image-damaging.
We do sincerely hope that this doesn’t reflect the future of an airline that had initially planned for turboprop Q400s and then switched to turbofan Embraer E-Jets (nothing wrong with a switch, as the E-jets opens up much longer routes, but reflects poor homework on the part of the airline), wants to offer low fares but doesn’t have the cabin of a low cost carrier (dual class cabin), publishes routes on its timetable, while the route map misses out those very routes, has been pushing the launch date far too many times, and promises the first flight only to revise that as well.
Sector Costs and Market Potential
How Air Costa is going to manage their costs is uncertain. The Embraer 170 on a 60 minute flight (Vijayawada-Bangalore) consumes, on average, approximately 900 liters of ATF. At the present ATF prices at Bengaluru, and 4% sales tax, this translates to INR 60,000. Including fuel, the operational cost is estimated at a very conservative INR 300,000 – 400,000, which will actually be much higher for a start-up airline. If we are to divide this by the 66 seats on board the airplane (60 economy + 6 first class), this translates to about INR 4,600 – 6,000 per seat, or INR 5,000 – 6,700 per seat neglecting the first class seats. Being regional, seldom will their aircraft fly with a 100% load factor, which further pushes up the cost per seat. It is further unlikely that there will be many takers for the expensive “Economy Plus” seats: the economy seats on an Embrarer are very comfortable, both in pitch and width, and upgrading to a first class seat on a 60-minute flight does not make much sense.
For a flight one month from today, Spicejet’s direct flight from Vijayawada to Bangalore is priced at INR 3,172, all-inclusive, per person. Air India, with an inconvenient stop, offers seats for 3,671 per person, and Jet Airways’ direct flight INR 5,187 per person. However, based on the fact that the Jet Airways’ 08:15 departure is the most convenient, there is a higher demand for that flight. If a person from Vijayawada wishes to wrap up business at Bangalore, in a day, he may pick Air Costa’s early morning 06:45 departure, reach Bangalore at 07:45, reach the heart of the city by 10:00am, wrap up business by 13:30, and pick the only convenient return flight at 16:40. But Air Costa will have to price economy at no less than INR 6,000 per economy seat, to break even at 90% economy-cabin load factor (54 seats), to prevent themselves from bleeding.
Air Costa’s Vijayawada-Bangalore economy all-inclusive fares start at INR 2,284 and progresses through 2,798, 3,323, 6,314 and upward based on demand, but still staying lower than the competition. How this pricing pattern covers operational costs, if ever, will be interesting to observe, as these are inaugural fares priced at INR 9, adding up to the above mentioned figures due to surcharges, fees and taxes.
Air Costa’s Bangalore-Vijayawada and Vijayawada-Bangalore may have the highest passenger loads among all carriers, simply because of the convenient timing, and pricing, if the fares continue to be priced the way they are.
It will be interesting to watch the growth of this regional airline, in the hands of an aviation first timer. You may notice a stark difference between the way Air Costa handles things and the way in which Air Asia India will manage their show.
3. Embraer 190STD: MSN 593, leased from GECAS, yet to be registered in India.
4. Embraer 190AR: MSN 608, leased from GECAS, yet to be registered in India.
The 170AR version has a range of about 2,200NM with 66 passengers. The cabin of the two E-170ARs are dual class: 6 first class seats with a luxurious 40″ seat pitch and 20″ seat width, and 60 economy seats with a very comfortable 32″ seat pitch and 18.25″ seat width.
The Two E-170s are about 3years 7 months old, and were formerly flying for Gulf Air. The E-190s, however, seem to be new airplanes.
The E-190s may also have a dual class cabin: 8 first class seats with a luxurious 38″ seat pitch and 20″ seat width, and 88 economy seats with a comfortable 31″ seat pitch and 18.25″ seat width. The 190STD has a range of about 2000NM with 96 passengers, and the 190AR, with the same payload, has a range of about 2,500NM.
The video shows The Embrarer E-190, MSN 608, which was originally intended to be leased by Estonian Air from GECAS. However, the carrier didn’t take the airplane, and the airplane now has a new operator: Air Costa.
Interestingly, Paramount Airways, had leased its two Embraer E-170s from ECC Leasing and its 3 E-175s from GECAS.
Air Costa’s all-inclusive “Economy” airfare from Vijayawada to Bangalore is INR 2,798. In contrast, the lowest available airfare on the same day, from competing carriers, is INR 6,242 (Air India, one stop). The only other direct flight is operated by Jet Airways on their ATR-72, and this is priced at INR 10,200.
The “Economy Plus”, which essentially buys you one of the 6 first class seats on the airplane, is priced at INR 11,876, all inclusive.
Air Costa’s Vijayawada to Bangalore is a 1 hour flight direct flight, departing at 0645IST and landing at 0745IST.
At the moment, bookings are open only till the 26th of October, 2013 (2 weeks from the scheduled first flight: 14th October 2013). The published airfares could possibly be for a “promotional” period.
Finally, it’s official. Regional carrier Air Costa will commence operations from the 14th of October, 2013. The regional airline, Andhra Pradesh’s first, will connect Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Ahmedabad.
Schedules for the flights are already published.
The Management includes the Chairman, Lingamaneni Ramesh; the CEO, Captain K.N. Babu; and the Director of Operations, Captain Lila Singh Aulakh. Lila Singh Aulakh was formerly a line pilot with Air India on the Boeing 747-400s.
Air Costa will start its operations with two Embraer E-170 airplanes (VT-LNR and VT-LSR). The E-170s are the LR version, capable to carrying 78 passengers across 1800NM. The inaugural flight will be from Vijayawada to Bangalore, which departs at 1030 IST and is expected to land at 1130 IST. This is a deviation from their schedule which is a 0645IST departure and a 0745IST arrival at Bangalore.
A third airplane, an Embraer E190 serial number 593, painted in Air Costa’s colors was to have been delivered to the airline, but whereabouts of the aircraft are unknown after being last spotted in Spain.
The Embraer 170s are, surprisingly, configured as a two-class cabin, to seat 6 First Class and 60 Economy Class. Uncertainty exists on the airline’s identity: a low cost or a low fare airline.
The airline is based at Vijayawada but maintenance facilities shall be at Chennai, until a planned MRO facility at Vijayawada’s Gannavaram Airport (ICAO: VOBZ, IATA: VGA) is setup, which is expected to take 1.5 years. Visakhapatnam’s and Vijayawada’s airports are strategic as they link the coastal region of Andhra Pradesh with other parts of the country. Vijayawada is expected to rise to greater prominence in the light of the breakup of Andhra Pradesh into smaller states.
On the 21st of September, 2013, the state government decided to expand and improve infrastructure facilities at the Vijayawada airport at a cost of INR 28 Million. 492 acres of land are expected to be acquired, near the airport.
Air Costa expects to grow operations to 14 routes, and 25 destinations by 2015, and 25 aircraft by 2018. Reportedly, the airline has about 300 employees including foreign pilots and engineers.
Air Costa, which is expected to start operations this month (July 2013), is ready to receive its third aircraft, a brand new Embraer 190 which was purchased from the manufacturer. Serial Number 593, which is painted in Air Costa colours and headed to Vijayawada, rolled out of the factory early this year, for an “undisclosed customer".
The purchased Embraer 190STD adds to Air Costa’s fleet of two leased Embraer 170-100LR airplanes (serial numbers 278 and 293). About 85 Embraer 190/195 aircraft were produced in 2012, of which 61 are variants of the Embraer 190. In sharp contrast, Embarer, in 2012, produced just 22 ERJ 170/175, of which only 2 are Embarer 170s; the rest being ERJ 175s.
While earlier reports cited April 2013 as the date of commencement of operations, new reports talk of July 2013 as the month that may witness Air Costa’s launch. Last year, Air Costa was to have launched in the month of May or June with Bombardier Q400 airplanes.
While Air Costa’s Embraer 170LR’s maximum passenger capacity of 80 and MTOW of 37,200kg will benefit from a landing fee waiver and a flat 4% service tax on ATF, the 114 seat (maximum) 47,790kg MTOW Embraer 190STD will attract landing fees and applicable tax on ATF which may be as high as 30% at some cities.
Quoting an Embraer release: “Air Costa has chosen E-Jets for their efficiency and reliability. Our plan is to link underserved markets in India with more direct flights," said Captain Babu, CEO of Air Costa. “The E170 and E190 are ideal in size and range. We can add frequencies and routes without adding too much capacity, thus serving places with seasonal demand, as well as key secondary and tertiary business centers."
As per Air Costa’s website, the airline will connect Vijayawada, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Vizag, Chennai, Ahmedabad, and Pune. While it is uncertain when the airline will actually launch, and how well a parent company focused on property development, and infrastructure development in the commercial, residential, education, power and health sectors will fare with an airline, success is possible with three key ingredients: strong focus on the customer and costs, adherence to a well researched business plan, and shunning of the ego.
It may be too early to say this, but the nature of the present businesses for LEPL foster a mindset that may turn out to be devastating for an airline. And if they succeed, which I hope they do, then they’ve, in all probability, read this post.
(I so badly wanted to title this: “India’s second ERJ 170 series operator: Air Costa”. But we’ve learnt our lessons of a volatile industry, the hard way.)
Air Costa, the Vijayawada based operator that had initially planned to launch operations using five Bombardier Q400s, is finally taking delivery of two Embrarer ERJ 170s. These E-Jets are leased from ECC Leasing. ECC Leasing was established in 2002 to manage and remarket Embraer´s pre-owned aircraft.
Both the ERJ 170s were formerly flying for Gulf Air, and were stored in Germany. One of the airplanes was spotted when it recently received its Air Costa paint scheme from Airbourne Colours at Bournemouth, UK. Airbourne Colours specialises in painting commercial, corporate and military aircraft. The second ERJ 170 is expected to roll out of the paint shop on the 29th of January, 2013.
The two ERJ 170-100LRs are presently registered G-CHJI (MSN 17000278) and G-CHJU (MSN 17000293), and will hopefully bear their Indian registrations soon. The last time Embraer 170s (-200LR, marketed as ERJ 175) were registered in India was when Paramount Airways was operating the type, until the airline ceased operations in 2010.
Air Costa’s Operations are expected to commence in the April of 2013. Reportedly, plans are to operate from Vijayawada to Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Vishakhapatnam. Air Costa’s promoter, LEPL (Lingamaneni Estates Private Limited), is a Vijayawada based company involved in infrastructure, power, hospitality, education and entertainment.
Surprisingly, the website has published a requirement only for captains, and not first officers or Aircraft Maintenance Engineers. [EDIT*: Experienced pilots with Jet and Turboprop experience have already been recruited and type rated . Most other staff including Engineers have been recruited and trained as well . Recruitment for Cabin Crew is still going on. Experienced crew have been taken to meet insurance requirements.] Further, as per existing civil aviation rules, the yet to take-off “airline" requires a fleet of a minimum of five airplanes, within one year of grant of operator’s permit, to continue its “scheduled passenger air transport services". However, for a “scheduled regional air transport service", operations can commence with just one airplane, with the condition that the fleet size grows to a minimum of three aircraft within two years, and a minimum of five aircraft by the end of five years from the date of securing the operator’s permit.
Since none of Air Costa’s planned routes are Category I (certain Metro-Metro pairs), Air Costa may very well start with a Regional Scheduled Operator’s permit.
As per existing Civil Aviation Rules, “Scheduled Regional Air Transport Service means a Scheduled Air Transport service which operates primarily in a designated region and which on grounds of operational and commercial exigencies may be allowed to operate from its designated region to airports in other regions, except the metro airports of other regions.”
Based on available information, the fleet will comprise of Embraer 170-100s, of a yet unknown fleet strength [EDIT*: 3 additional ERJ 170s are expected, in the period of 6-8 months following the commencement of operations] . This Embraer 170 variant can seat upto 80 passengers, with typically 78 being opted for. The maximum takeoff weight of the heaviest version is 38,600kg. Being lighter than 40,000kg MTOW qualifies Air Costa to pay only 4% service tax on fuel, as opposed to as much as 30% service tax for heavier aircraft. Further, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) does not charge domestic scheduled operators any landing fees for aircraft with a maximum certified capacity of less than 80 seats. These factors bode well for Air Costa.
Why the Embraer 170?
The ATR 72-500/600 burns roughly 760kg/hr, and claims a range of around 825 nautical miles (NM) with 70 passengers at 95kg each. The Embraer 170 burns roughly 1,400kg per hour, but claims a range of close to 2,000 NM with 70 passengers, or a little less than 1,500NM with 80 passengers, at 100kg each. While it may initially appear that Air Costa has gone in for an aircraft that consumes nearly twice the quantity of fuel of the most economical-to-operate western world turboprop, operating economics seem to have possibly been traded for operational flexibility, with the speed of a jet.
For example, the longest sector that the ATR 72 is operated on, in India, is 500NM. The air distance, under no winds, between Vijaywada and Ahmedabad is around 700NM.
Although the ERJ 170 is listed at around US$28M, US$5M costlier than the US$23M listed ATR72-600, slowing sales of the 70 seat jet leads to lowered market value, which translates to attractive purchase or lease rates for operators. In 2012, Embarer produced just 22 ERJ 170 series airplanes (170 and 175), of which only 2 were Embarer 170s; the rest being ERJ 175s. In contrast, ATR produced 64 airplanes in 2012, of which 60 were the ATR 72-500 and 600: airplanes with the same seating capacity as the ERJ 170. With a backlog of 221 airplanes: ATR has the largest backlog for regional aircraft up to 90 seats. In summary, significantly lower demand for the EMB 170 may make it available for cheaper than an equally aged ATR 72. [EDIT*: They were planing on leasing 3 Q400 from Botswana but Embraer offered them a better deal that they couldn’t resist.]
The two airplanes that Air Costa is leasing were delivered to Gulf Air in the March of 2010, but were stored in the July of 2012, logging 2 years 4 months of service with the Middle East carrier. Only in the January of 2013, did the aircraft take off in the colours of their new operator.
Air Costa: A behavioural review
Air Costa’s initial announcement of the launch of its airlines with five Q-400 Turboprops, followed by its sudden change of the airplane type within less than a year reflects poor homework, preparation and research, on the part of the airline. Hopefully, the airline has well researched its routes. Further, it is hoped that the demonstrated fickle-mindedness does not reflected in its business plan, making it yet another airline that blossoms only to quickly wither away.
* With Inputs from Cyril Roy
[Images of the Air Costa airplane may be viewed here: LINK]