Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew into Cochin from Delhi on Indian Air Force One, operated by an Indian Air Force Boeing 737-700 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) with tail number K5014. The way in which the airplane was flown was interesting, and different from the way in which a similar aircraft operating for a scheduled airline is flown. We compare the way in which the military 737 was flown, with the way in which a commercial 737-800 was flown on the same route.
The 737-700BBJ’s lateral flight path is compared with the lateral flight path of a Boeing 737-800 VT-SZA operated by SpiceJet today on Delhi-Cochin as SG 561. What stands out is that the flight path of the military 737 is curvy, and not straight unlike the SpiceJet 737, strongly indicating that the flight was manually controlled, either by being hand flown throughout or by manual heading inputs to the autopilot. It does point to neither the autopilot’s VOR/LOC function, nor the FMS-controlled lateral navigation being used.
The vertical flight path shows that the Prime Minister’s flight (image on the left shows Him beside the 737 at Cochin) was not optimized for fuel burn. The aircraft climbed to 31,000ft (odd level altitude) when headed in the easterly direction, and as it changed direction over Hyderabad to a westerly direction, the aircraft descended to 30,000ft (even altitude). A BBJ, usually being light, can fly much higher than 31,000ft. The optimum altitude for an airplane gets higher as it gets lighter, and it could have step climbed rather than step-descended over Hyderabad.
The SpiceJet 737, in contrast, flew at 37,000ft till over Hyderabad. By then, the airplane was lighter, having burnt most of the flight’s trip fuel. Over Hyderabad, when turning towards Cochin, it step climbed to 38,000ft – just as one would expect for optimal fuel burn.
A valid argument would be the winds at altitudes that could have impacted the military 737’s decision to fly at a lower altitude. The SpiceJet flight and the military 737 flight were 5 hours apart. However, IndiGo’s VT-IEM operating 6E 289 DEL-COK took off just 28 minutes after the Air Force 737, climbed to 35,000ft and then to 36,000ft over Hyderabad. IndiGo’s aircraft in fact picked up 13 minutes enroute, to land just about 15 minutes after the Air Force 737, clearly showing that winds at higher altitude were not unfavourable.
The intent of this piece isn’t to highlight who flies better, but rather to appreciate some of the differences between air transport flights in the military and in the commercial world. Vastly different priorities may explain the differences in flying. In the airline world though, it is all about minimising costs at every little opportunity.
Vistara, India’s newest pan-India airline, took the trouble to prepare a report on the aviation sector in India, highlighting the numerous areas in which India can and must improve. The report also concluded that Indian aviation is blessed with undeniably strong fundamentals such as:
A large and fast growing domestic market with potential for sustainability.
A strategic location (geographic) enabling hubs / transit points for key international routes.
An abundance of tourism potential.
A strong technical and skilled workforce that can support aviation in various functions.
A traditionally service-driven culture, which augurs well for the hospitality industry.
The report went on to state that India is not a global aviation power today despite many such favourable characteristics because of poor decisions that have actively hindered the country’s aviation sector’s growth and competitiveness.
Key Take-aways, as summarized by the Vistara communications team:
1. Criticality of Aviation Sector
Aviation contributes to around 5% of GDP in leading global markets
3 billion people or 40% of the global population fly vs. low 1-2% penetration in India
Annual per capita seats in India are a quarter of China, Indonesia, Thailand
Aviation drives 27% of UAE GDP; 5.4% of US GDP
Aviation is growing rapidly in India; incremental passengers this decade was 3 times in previous 50 years
2. Potential of Indian civil aviation sector
Annual contribution of USD 250 billion to Indian economy by 2025
Employment creation to multiply 10 times to 2.3 million by 2050
Number of domestic passengers to grow 17 times to 1.1 billion by 2050
Number of international passengers to grow 10 times to 500 million by 2050
Domestic freight to increase eighteen times , and International freight more than eight times by 2050
Number of aircraft to multiply by 14 times to about 5600 by 2050
3. Policy Measures Required
1. Cost of doing business
Duties make ATF, which can constitute 30-35% of operating costs, 45% more expensive in India
Removal of sales tax will reduce ATF costs by 20% thus reducing operating costs by 7%, and stimulating air travel by around 8-9%
High taxation on MROs makes it cheaper to send aircraft abroad for maintenance, going against “Make in India" vision
Aeronautical charges are amongst the highest in the world
2. Ease of doing business
4 months in US vs. 90 days in UAE vs. more than a year and 10 agencies in India for getting an AOP
Simplification of RDG
3. Liberal Aviation regime
5/20: discriminatory to Indian airlines; impacts airlines’ risk mitigation and operational efficiencies
Indian airlines only use 26% of their bilateral rights
4. Invest in airport infrastructure, airspace management and skill development
Airport capacity shortage looms in 5 years
Additional airport capacity of 90 million passengers will be required each year from 2030 i.e. equivalent of Delhi and Mumbai airports combined
5. Focus on Safety
Access to expert and trained, fit-for-purpose resources are critical for DGCA
It’s been a long, tiring week, both in the offices and on twitter. The best way to unwind is to look at certain things from a light – very light angle. Wait, we’re taking something totally irrelevant.
CIA – Comical Indian Aviation – brainchilded by The Flying Engineer and encouraged, fed, and moulded by Dr. DSL, is an attempt to elicit a laugh at the end of a stressful week. We can’t promise you a frequency of CIA strips. Nor can we say if we’re dedicated to the CIA strip. Enjoy it as it comes.
Don’t mistake us, we’re not taking sides. We’re not stating facts. We’re not breaking news. We don’t know whom we’re talking about, and we are certain that any and all interpretations that you may arrive at are purely the figments of your imagination based on the creativity of our comic ‘strip’.
By the way, we had thought of FIA – Funny Indian Aviation, but dropped it knowing how nasty the FIA can be to some.