Everyone today looks upto India as the next destination for growth. The Ministry of Civil Aviation, in its draft National Civil Aviation Policy, has captured the attention of everyone with the claim of a large middle class population, and the promise of certain reforms that should may better the ease of doing business.
We appreciate what the Ministry has done, is doing, and will do. But certain claims must be taken with a pinch of salt, must be questioned, and analysed, just to prevent over-optimism and to make room for realism. Like for example:
India is a 300 million strong population of middle class persons. The Ministry targets each of these 300 million to fly atleast once in their life. Pertinent questions: What is the definition of middle class? What subset can really afford air travel? These questions are important to prevent overcapacity in the Indian market based on optimism.
India targets 300 million domestic ticketing by 2022. That means, calendar year (CY) 2021 must end with 300 million domestic passengers in a single year. India will end CY 2015 with 80 million domestic passengers. What is the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) required to touch 300 million in CY 2021? Is this CAGR too high to achive? What do market leaders like Airbus say?
Today, we focus on these two issues, which form part of the Ministry’s vision, and we see if this is achievable. Our views on the Regional Connectivity Scheme and the 5/20 are ready, which we hope to release tomorrow. We will also be commenting on Scheduled Commuter Airlines (SCA) and Safety, and lightly touch upon Aeronautical ‘Make in India’, Aviation Education & Skill Development, and Air Navigation Services.
To read about the first two issues, please click here.
Vistara, which is on track with its fleet expansion plans, received its 8th Airbus A320-232SL at Toulouse. The aircraft, registered VT-TTI and bearing manufacturer serial number (MSN) 6785, is flying from Toulouse to Delhi via Ras Al Khaimah International Airport (UAE), where it will stop for refuelling before continuing to Delhi.
This 8th aircraft, along with the recently accepted 7th aircraft (VT-TTH) will allow the airline to either expand or strengthen its network. The timing of the airplanes is good – allowing the airline to build capacity for the peak season – the months of October, November, December, and part of January.
The airline’s 9th aircraft is expected in the month of November. The airline will close calendar year 2015 with a fleet of 9 aircraft.
Vistara today flies to 11 destinations, with the 12th destination – Varanasi – being added on the 21st of October. All 8 airplanes will be flying 21st October onwards.
The airline, with the 8th aircraft, has the capacity to deploy an additional ~6 flights. Offering a morning BLR-DEL and an evening DEL-BLR is important to raise the appeal of the airline’s network. It will not be surprising if the airline adds a pattern that flies BOM-BLR-DEL-XXX(perhaps VNS?)-DEL-BLR-BOM, to offer its customers better connectivity to BOM and DEL from BLR.
The airline, which has flown nearly 6,50,000 passengers till end September 2015, is expected to cross the 1 million passenger mark by December 31st, 2015, considering the peak season and the addition of capacity with three new airplanes.
One of AirAsia India’s aircraft utilisation has increased to one of the highest in the country.
1 millionth passenger expected to be flown around August 5th.
Typical turn around time: 25 -30 minutes.
The airline, which started operations one year ago on June 12th, 2014, now operates a fleet of 5 aircraft from 2 hubs – Bangalore and Delhi. All of the airline’s present flights from Delhi are no less than 2 hours 20 minutes long. Such long flights ensure that the airplanes spend a larger fraction of the flight in air, resulting in higher aircraft utilisation.
One of the airline’s 5 aircraft rotations flies only 2:30hr flights. This rotation covers a Delhi-Bangalore return, and two Delhi-Goa returns. Together, the utilisation on this pattern totals to 15:10 hrs, which is 50 minutes short of the target that the airline had made public, but one of the highest in the country for all domestic operations.
Average utilisation is however at 12:19 hrs, and the minimum utilisation is 11:00hrs. The average turn-around time at the airline is 36 minutes, a figure that is 16 minutes higher than the target of 20 minutes. However, turn around periods of 25 minutes and 30 minutes account for 70% of all turnarounds. There are no turnarounds of 20 minutes. Refer graph below.
The airline recently added Imphal as a destination, raising the number of destinations to 10. The airline today flies 32 flights a day, deploying 5,760 seats a day and flying around 4,500 passengers daily. Till end May 2015, the airline had flown 716,000 passengers. The airline may fly its 1 millionth passenger on or around the 5th of August 2015.
The airline may add a third Cochin flight in the morning, to provide a well spread out thrice daily service to Cochin from Bangalore. When added, all airplanes will be flying at near maximum utilisation in their rotations. No further growth is possible with the existing fleet.
Aircraft between hubs may be swapped through the night flight I52227 DEL-BLR and I52228 BLR-DEL. Two rotations sync up at the right times to allow for a swap. Until a third Cochin is launched, the airline may use the morning flight I52221 DEL-BLR to swap airplanes.
Ideally, considering that Delhi base has higher aircraft utilisation, the airline may realise a higher fuel saving by deploying two winglet-equipped aircraft at Delhi rather than just one as is the case today. Winglets help realise greater savings on longer flights.
According to the AirAsia Group, AirAsia India, “Overall performance was better than expected with strong loads but is working on keeping costs under check.”
AirAsia India is a wonderful airline, and has got a few things right. Their on board service is one of those.
As an airline, especially a start-up airline, making mistakes is inevitable. Falling short of projected growth plans and heavy flight cancellations and delays in certain months of the first year of operations are acceptable. Both these have happened to AirAsia India, and the industry understands. Of course, there are better examples, such as IndiGo, which has managed to play the game like no other.
The unacceptable part? Factually incorrect statements that can lower the overall credibility of the industry.
Here is an excerpt from the May 20 interview of the AirAsia India CEO, by Ashwini Phadnis, as published in The Hindu Business Line:
How many of the things planned initially have happened and how many have not?
We have done certain things we did not expect. We have flown close to a million passengers. By the time we complete our first year we would have flown more than a million passengers. No other airline in India has done that before in their first year of operations. We have done that with a skeleton fleet, meaning, we have utilised aircraft significantly.
We contest both claims  & , in the interest of factual correctness.
The graph on top (click to enlarge) shows the total number of passengers flown against the first twelve months of operations. All data is from the DGCA.
IndiGo, Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet, and Go Air started operations in the 2005-2006 timeframe. Within the first one year of operations, all airlines in consideration, with the exception of Go Air, carried in excess of 1 million passengers. IndiGo crossed the 2 million mark in the first year!
As of 31st March 2015, AirAsia India had carried 550,000 passengers. This means that the airline will need to carry 450,000 passengers to touch the 1 million mark by the end of June (AirAsia India started operations on 12th June, 2014). This means that the airline will need to carry on average 150,000 passengers in the months of April, May and June. Is this achievable?
Data for the month of April and May were not available at the time of writing this piece. Since April had no new flights, but had infact cut 4 – Bangalore- Chennai & back, the airline flew around 97,200 seats in April. With an assumed 82% load factor – their highest so far, the airline could have flown no more than 80,000 passengers in April.
66% of May was flown with 18 flights a day, which totals to approximately 65,000 seats. Effective 21st May, the airline will operate 8 new flights. For 33% of the month this totals to around 47,000 seats. IN total, May can fly only 112,000 seats. At a generous 90% load factor, this is 100,000 passengers.
In June, the airline will fly 28 flights a day, flying approximately 140000 seats a month. At 80% load factor, this will result in around 120,000 passengers being flown.
This means that AirAsia India will close its first year of operations with a maximum of 850,000 passengers, neither meeting nor crossing the 1 million mark.
We wish the airline all the very best for its northern hub operations.
The Airbus A350 program seems to be on track for the planned 12 month certification program, and the planned entry into service (EIS) in what was earlier reported by Airbus as the “second half of 2014”, and now, more precisely, “Q4 2014”; On Thursday 2nd January 2014 Airbus rolled-out its third A350 XWB flight-test aircraft, MSN2, from the paint shop in Toulouse.
The rolling out of the A350 fitted with a cabin was well timed: January 1st 2014 marked 100 years since the first scheduled commercial airline flight took off, with just one passenger, from St-Pertersburg, Florida, to Tampa, Florida, in a flight that lasted just 23 minutes.
The first A350 to enter commercial service will be for Qatar Airways.
This aircraft, F-WWCF, is the first of two A350 flight test aircraft to be equipped with a full passenger cabin interior, and features a distinctive “Carbon" signature livery to reflect its primary construction from advanced materials. 53% of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made-up of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) including Airbus’ first carbon-fibre fuselage.
The other aircraft to be fitted with a cabin will be MSN 5, which is in the final assembly line and is expected to fly in a few months. MSN 1, 3 and 4 are dedicated to avionics, noise testing, and various other systems work through the flight test program. These three aircraft will not be fitted with a cabin, but rather, equipped with heavy flight test installation.
MSN2 will join the A350 XWB flight test fleet in the coming weeks and will be the first A350 to transport passengers when it undertakes the Early Long Flights (ELF) later in the year. The “passengers” will be Airbus employees.
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.