The Airbus A320 is the first aircraft to be certified with the Pratt and Whitney (PW) Geared Turbofan (GTF) Engines. The GTF engines are revolutionary, moving somewhat closer to a turboprop with the presence of the reduction gear-drive. The A320neo (new engine option) variant with the PW 1127G-JM engines, the A320-271N, has run into a spot of bother, which has made Qatar and IndiGo refuse the aircraft with its present restrictions. Lufthansa is now the launch customer of the neo.
According to Air Transport World (ATW), “…operational restrictions are still in place for the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engine, pending some hardware and software changes”. This restriction requires the engines to idle for three minutes before the aircraft can commence taxi. Qatar will not accept a part-baked product, and IndiGo will not operate an airplane that will mess with its strict turn-around schedule.
The 5th production Airbus A320neo (-271), MSN 6801, is slated for Lufthansa, to be registered D-AINA. The 11th production A320-271N, MSN 6864, to be registered D-AINB, is the second A320neo slated for Lufthansa. The remaining A320neos upto the 11th are slated for Indigo (5), Qatar (2), and Spirit Airlines (1). Both are assembled at the line at Hamburg (Germany). The first A320neo is planned by Lufthansa to be introduced into commercial service in January first week, according to ATW.
With Lufthansa stepping up as the launch customer, Qatar will become the second operator to induct the A320neo, and IndiGo the third. Go air is slated to receive the 23rd production A320neo (-271N). IndiGo will then receive its neos only in early 2016, as had originally been widely speculated, based on other issues the engine had earlier faced.
The Pratt and Whitney GTF engine, by virtue of its new technology, will have its share of issues till the engine matures, as is the case with almost every new engine. While the GTF optimises propulsive efficiency through the use of a reduction gearbox to drive the three stages of the engine at optimal speeds, the alternate engine to power the A320neo, CFM’s LEAP-1A, optimises thermal efficiency by running the combustion chamber much hotter, relying heavily on material technology to withstand such temperatures. According to Aspire Aviation, the CFM engines have underperformed on fuel consumption, and is facing issues related to both component heating, and cooling mechanisms.
While IndiGo and Go Air will bear the brunt of the bound-to-happen hiccups as the engine matures, Vistara, which is yet to make a decision on its engines in the first half of 2016, will receive its leased neos only in the second half of 2017. The airline will have good time to keep a close watch on the PW1127G-JM engine performance and reliability to make a better informed decision. While the aircraft and engine certification programme put the aircraft through extreme tests, it is also a known fact that Indian operating conditions are harsh for engines. Prolonged operations in Indian conditions will truly test the A320-271N.
Air India has apparently not yet decided on leasing neos in the short-medium term.
Edit (30th Sept): Edited to include the first flight of the first production A320NEO, which is destined for IndiGo. Edit includes a confirmation of a Space Flex cabin.
Indian domestic market leader IndiGo’s first Airbus A320 NEO (New Engine Option) – part of the July 2011 order for 180 aircraft, has rolled out of the Hamburg (Germany) final assembly line fully painted in the airline colors, but without the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) Engines. This is the third such airframe of the airline. Two have no engines fitted. The cabin has not been fitted yet.
MSN 6720, destined for IndiGo, first flew on September 25th at Toulouse, France. The aircraft fuselage has however not been painted in the airline’s colors, but the wings are in the airline’s markings. MSN6720 is the 6th NEO to be produced, and the first ‘production’ NEO. The to-be Indian Registration of MSN 6720 is yet unknown, but will likely be the first A320 NEO for IndiGo.
A320-271N MSN 6744, which is expected to be registered VT-ITA, is the 7th NEO produced, and likely the second for IndiGo. A320-271N MSN 6799, to be registred VT-ITC, is likely IndiGo’s third A320 being assembled at the Toulouse (France) final assembly line, and is the 9th NEO to be produced. All Airbus A320 NEOs that IndiGo will accept will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1127G engines.
The same engines had a problem with a clip holding seals inside the engine. This had caused concerns on the NEO program schedule, which has invariably slipped a bit. However, launch customer Qatar Airways expects to receive the first aircraft by the end of the calendar year. Interestingly, Qatar’s A320 NEO is MSN 6772 – the 8th NEO – which means it is later down the assembly line sequence when compared to IndiGo’s 6744 and 6720.
The NEOs rely on the sharklets and new, ultra-high bypass geared turbofan engine technology to together deliver fuel savings of upto around 15% (over and above today’s CEO A320’s without sharklets) . Such high fuel savings will however be realized only on very long flights that approach the maximum range of the airplane.
Airbus’s “Space Flex” concept allows airlines to increase the seating capacity of the Airbus A320 (both current engine options (CEO) and NEO) to 189 seats, without compromising on seat pitch and comfort. This is achieved by moving the two rear lavatories closer to the bulkhead, eating into the galley space. This makes more sense to no frills carriers which do not carry much meals on board. The space for service trolleys in the aft galley of the aircraft reduces from 7 to 3. The space where the aft lavatories were fitted are replaced with 1.5 rows of seats.
This increase in number of seats reduces unit costs by 5% to 6%. It is not known if IndiGo will adopt the space flex concept yet. No physical changes to the emergency exits are required. However, opting for a mix of 189 seat and 180 seat A320s may reduce operational flexibility for the airline. Opting for a higher capacity however seems inevitable.
IndiGo is believed to have opted for the Space Flex cabin, but details on when it will appear are not known.
This piece has 3 parts: the first entirely factual, the second, Spicejet’s offer and what it should do to make itself more appealing (based on actual feedback), and the third: a focus on Spicejet, its COO, and its investor: is a part factual and part well informed yet speculative section.
The Big Sale left no great Tale.
In the 3 months of February, March and April 2012, Spicejet had flown 838,911 empty seats that made up 25% of the airline’s average seat capacity in that 3 month period. Based on the airline’s past performance and future growth projections, 25% in that 3 month period, in 2013, was to have translated to 987,644 seats. Make that 1,000,000 (10 lakh) for the arithmophobic.
That’s the exact number of tickets that were on sale, mid January, for an all inclusive fare of INR 2013, during the airline’s Big Sale offer, valid for travel during February, March and April, 2013.
The numbers made sense; everyone was convinced, and the figures added up to a promise. The load factors were expected to lean towards 100%, by roping in travellers who otherwise would have preferred the Indian Railways. It should have made perfect sense.
But it didn’t. In that 3 month period, the airline flew 900,733 empty seats, 7% more empty seats than those in the same period, in 2012. Capacity had grown 17%, demand grew 20%, but the average load factor had grown a dismal 2.8% to 77.3%.
But did it have the effect of siphoning off passengers from other players, including its biggest, true low cost competitor, IndiGo? In the same period, Feb-April 2013, IndiGo’s capacity grew 24%, demand grew 27%, and load factors increased, eerily, by the exact same amount as Spicejet’s: 2.8%, to 82.7%.
And yes, both airlines flew 900,000 empty seats each in that 3 month period.
Focusing on the consistent, business traveller.
It’s that time of the year, again, and Spicejet has a new offer: the Spicejet Corporate Flyer Offer, which offers to corporate companies 1 free one way ticket for every 6 completed one way journeys and 2 free one way tickets for every 10 completed one way journeys, with applicable T&C. This year, until probably any other offer is introduced, the airline has shifted focus from the Aam Aadmi, and focused on Corporates.
Will it pay off? Maybe. But unlike targeting the rail-going population, the corporate traveller needs something more: good service. And from what we’ve been hearing, including from a top management guy from one of the world’s largest manufacturers of computers, with a strong India presence, the service needs a makeover.
Agreed, India is a price sensitive market, but it’s not always the fares and offers that attracts a passenger: promise must be met with delivery. Because everyone remembers the bad and not the good. And an airline wouldn’t want to risk that, if one of its passengers is a decision maker at a big, big company.
Pilot in Command: Sanjiv Kapoor
This small, yet deepened focus on the corporate traveller may be one of the changes brought about by the Sanjiv Kapoor guided airline. Sanjiv Kapoor, interestingly, was employed by Bain & Co for over 5 years, the last position that of a Principle. His profile spanned strategy, turn around, alliances, network planning, revenue enhancement, procurement, post-merger integration, and customer experience transformation.
His absorption into the company is very interesting. Customer Experience can do way, way better in the airline, and hopefully, he’s here to deliver. Alliances: he’s already entered Spicejet into an interline agreement with Tigerair.
And the most interesting part is here: procurement, and post-merger integration. Very surprisingly, Sanjiv appointed consulting Bain and Co. to restructure the airline’s network and return it to profitability. Sanjiv also held the position of Senior Director, Temasek Holdings for 1yr 8 months. Temasek Holdings, directly and indirectly through Singapore Airlines has a significant stake in Tiger Airways, which operates as Tigerair.
Some wonder if Spicejet hired Sanjiv, or Tigerair placed Sanjiv in Spicejet. The quarterly loss of Spicejet is eerily similar to that of Indonesian carrier Mandala Airlines, which was grounded in 2011, for a year, following debt related issues. The airline took to the skies again, reborn as Tigerair Mandala.
The winds point to Tigerair investing in the Indian low cost airline. The winds are strong and steady, and the dawn of 2014 will show us the airline and its investor, striped or not.