Air Asia’s first aircraft may not arrive before March 2nd 2014. How many pilots the airline has, and what crew who switch airlines look for. Operations in Summer. This, and more, below.
Air Asia India had intended, in the October of 2013, to start operations with MSN 5200, an Airbus A320 now flying for Indonesia Air Asia as PK-AZI, and was formerly flying with Air Asia Japan. The timing of the closure of Air Asia Japan (October 2013), and the starting of Air Asia India, intended in the December of 2013, was coincidental.
But on 20th January, 2014, the DGCA issued a public notice, stating, “In order to comply with the requirements of Schedule Xl of Aircraft Rules 1937, a notice is hereby given to the public and all the persons likely to be affected by the grant of this permit to M/s Air Asia (lndia) Pvt. Ltd. for the purpose of providing scheduled air transport services in lndia, submit their objections or suggestions, if any, within twenty days of issue of this public notice”
That only meant one thing: delay.
A committee was setup under A.K. Sharan, Joint Director General, DGCA to review the objections and suggestions received in respect of application for grant of permit to Air Asia (India) Pvt. Ltd.
A month later, on 21st February 2014, the DGCA issued a second public notice to do with Air Asia India, in which the following statement was made, “The Committee in its report have not found any reason to keep on hold the processing of application of M/s. Air Asia (India) Pvt. Ltd., for issuance of Air Operator Permit (AOP) .”
This paves the way for the issuance of Air Operator’s Permit “subject to compliance of various requirements in terms of CAR, CAP 3100 and other applicable rules and Air Information Circulars.”
Aircraft on short finals
A photo showing MSN6015, an Airbus A320-216SL, was caught flying at Toulouse on 19th February, 2014 (image on top). The aircraft, flying under the test registration F-WWBV, will be registered VT-ATF. VT-ATB, MSN6034 will be the next aircraft to join the fleet, according to ch-aviation. Route proving flights, the last stage in the process to obtain an Air Operator Permit, will be done on these aircraft. MSN5200 will, for now atleast, remain with Indonesia Air Asia.
“The A320 delivers fantastic reliability, and we work these aircraft very hard: flying them almost 14 hours a day – conducting eight landings and takeoffs, performing turnarounds in 25 minutes,” said Tony Fernandes, in 2012 when receiving the airline’s 100th Airbus A320 at Toulouse.
When IndiGo and GoAir started operations, their first set of Airbus A320 aircraft took almost one month between the first flight and the delivery to the airline. The time period has now reduced to between 11-15 days, though it occasionally takes a month. If the trend continues, AirAsia’s first airplane may not arrive before 2nd March 2014, and not later than 19th March, 2014.
The award of the AOP is expected 1 – 2 weeks after the route proving flights, if all goes well. This pegs, as of today, the AOP award toward the later part of March 2014, and the start of operations in April 2014, coinciding with the Indian Summer.
Apparently, the airline plans to start operations with 5 aircraft, which is expected to grow to 10 in one year of operation. The airline declined comment on its fleet expansion plans.
The airline presently has 35 pilots. With such a number, the airline can comfortably operate 3-4 aircraft.
As per Indian Civil Aviation Requirements, “Before the Scheduled Operator’s Permit is issued, an applicant shall have a fleet of minimum five aeroplanes.” The same CAR offers a relaxation, “To facilitate the start of the operations, operators will be permitted to operate with one aeroplane/ helicopter and will be given one year’s time from the date of securing operator’s permit, to have the fleet size of five aircraft.”
Airline in the sights of flightcrew.
Air Asia India presently has 35 pilots: 15 Captains and 20 First Officers. And the hiring is still on.
A Spicejet first officer, who flies the Boeing 737NG, has an Airline transport license, and goes by the alias “spiceflyboy” expresses his thoughts on joining Air Asia. He feels that getting an Airbus Fly-By-Wire rating and experience is good, as he can later move on to an Airbus A330, A340, A350 or A380 operator. With his Boeing experience, he feels he can possibly fly for Boeing 777 and 787 operators. “Globally, Airbus pilots are in greater demand”. With 2000+ hours on the Boeing 737NG, another 2000+ hours on the Airbus A320 will, in his opinion, make him “future proof”. “Air Asia, being a LCC, will give me a lot of flying, which I need at this stage of my flying career. But I’d go only if they hire me as a transition captain”.
Would there be any reasons for not joining Air Asia? “If they don’t take off, I wouldn’t join them. If they pay less, or keep me as a first officer, I wouldn’t want to be with them”.
For many senior first officers, who may have to wait long for their command, Air Asia is their target. At this stage of an airline, pushing for command is easier: there is a lot of flying, and the need for captains will make the airline push qualified first officers to the left seat. An expedited command, even with a slightly lower remuneration, means a lot for a senior first officer: the “P1” stamp on the license throws open the job market. It was a similar case at IndiGo when the airline was in a dire need of pilots. That scenario no longer exists at the blue airline.
For others, work culture is more important than the money. There are pilots who are willing to accept INR 20,000-30,000 lower gross pay per month, if they are promised a better work culture, in line with what Air Asia offers today.
In any case, Air Asia India is attracting, on average, 10-15 sufficiently qualified aircrew, for each interview session, even if most are uncertain of switching airlines.