Bombardier, manufacturer of the world’s largest western civilian turboprop aircraft, the DHC-8 Q400, today launched the 90 seat variant at the Singapore Airshow, making the largest airplane even larger in terms of capacity, without so much as stretching the airplane by an inch.
The Q400 usually seats 78 passengers in a single class with a 30 inch seat pitch. In 2013, Bombardier had launched the 86 seat variant of the Q400, with Nok Air of Thailand as the launch customer. The 86 seat variant offered a seat pitch of 29 inches, by shifting the aft galley into the aft cargo hold, thereby reducing aft cargo space by 20%, and doing away with the forward baggage hold.
This made the case for Bombardier to announce a 90 seat variant with a seat pitch of 28 inches. To add an extra 4 seats, or one row, Bombardier is, according to Flightglobal, will push back the rear bulkhead and reconfigure the front right hand door. To make the airplane more attractive, Bombardier is increasing the 90 seat variant’s payload by 900 kg, and proposing an escalation of the A-Check and C-Check intervals from 600/6,000 to 800/8,000 flight hours. The 90 seat variant is expected to enter service as early as 2018, provided Bombardier secures a launch customer for the type.
Why at the Singapore Airshow?
There are four reasons why ATR and Bombardier are focusing on South East Asia. First, the geography and infrastructure of countries is such that connectivity within the country is best offered by short haul air transport. Second, the region is comprised of developing nations, where the end customers, the passengers, are very price sensitive. Third, demand for travel is rising. Fourth, the average height of the population is much shorter than the western world.
Turboprops are excellent for short and thin routes. Average ticket prices can only be lowered if the cost per seat falls further. The same airplane packing more seats lowers the cost per seat per flight, which allows airlines to compete better using pricing as a tool. The 90 seat variant may reduce the cost per seat by as much as 11-13% when compared to the 78 seat variant, and by 3-4% when compared to the 86 seat variant. Packing more seats reduces the seat pitch, which would have been a repulsive product to sell to passengers in the western world. But in South East Asia, the lower average height makes a 28 inch seat pitch comfortable. South East Asians are, on average, one of the shortest in the world.
Bombardier had launched the 86 seat variant at Dubai, but the launch airline is from a South East Asian country. Knowing that any demand for ultra high density aircraft variants will only come from Asia, Singapore Airshow 2016, Asia’s biggest commercial aerospace and defense exhibition, had to be the platform of choice.
Everything – absolutely everything in the airline has a Singapore Airlines ‘stamp’.
On 25th September, TATA-Singapore Airlines, which will operate under the brand name Vistara, publicly announced the receipt of their first aircraft, an Airbus A320-232SL that arrived from Toulouse with a tech-stop (to refuel) in the middle east. The aircraft flew in all white – without the livery of the airline. The aircraft will eventually be either stickered or painted, and the aircraft’s delay in arrival will only push the start of operations to either end October or early November, after the airline can fly the aircraft on intended routes for a series of ‘proving’ flights to satisfy the DGCA’s Civil Aviation Policy CAP3100.
From Singapore Airlines
Vistara’s first aircraft – like the other 19 aircraft that are to be received over time, are leased from BOC Aviation. BOC Aviation is 100% owned by Bank of China, one of the largest banks in the world.
BOC aviation, headquartered in Singapore, was formerly SALE – Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise, when it started operations in November 1993. When formed, SALE was a 50:50 ownership between Singapore Airlines and Boullioun Aviation Services. In the December of 2006, SALE was acquired 100% by the Bank of China (BOC) for US$965 million. In the July of 2007, it was renamed to BOC aviation, to reflect the change in ownership. With the support of BOC, BOC aviation was able to expedite its growth, from 100 planes in 2009 – over the first 16 years – to 246 owned and managed aircraft operated by 56 airlines worldwide in 2014- just five years later. BOC Aviation has another 196 aircraft on firm order, as of date.
BOC Aviation is headquartered in Singapore, and has leased airplanes to SpiceJet, and Jet Airways. Interestingly, the first ever lease to a Singapore Airline subsidiary or affiliate, although the lessor had its roots in Singapore Airlines. The 20 aircraft lease to Vistara is reportedly the largest leasing agreement in BOC Aviation’s history.
Of Singapore Airlines
TATA-SIA Airlines is a 51:49 joint venture between TATA Sons and Singapore International Airlines (SIA). SIA has invested US$ 49 Million. The TATAs, although a majority stakeholder, have no recent experience in the airline business, and the airline is expected to be pretty much run and managed by Singapore Airlines, although substantial ownership and effective control will be vested in Indian nationals. Singapore Airlines is expected to dictate how the airline will be run (executed). Vistara, a full service carrier, is expected to reflect a strong Singapore Airlines influence – at all levels of operations and perhaps even decisions.
The airline’s first aircraft was ferried from Toulouse by pilots Gopal Subramaniam and Mandhesh Singh. Gopal is Chief Pilot Line Operations, Technical & Quality at Vistara, and has joined from Singapore Airlines, where he still considers to be employed. Mandesh was flying the Airbus A330s for Singapore Airlines, and previously the A320s for SilkAir, and was part of the crew that inaugurated the direct Singapore-Coimbatore flight in 2007.
Phee Teik Yeoh, CEO of Vistara, has been with Singapore Airlines for nearly 23 years, and started his career with the airline as a Network Planning Analyst. Considering the CEO being a Singapore Airlines’ guy, and that he has held a wide spectrum of portfolios at SIA, prepping him for the role as a CEO, all management decisions and recommendations will pretty much be the way Singapore Airlines wants it.
At AirAsia India, none of the technical or managerial positions are held by any former AirAsia employees.
For Singapore Airlines
Historically, airlines which Singapore Airlines either has a stake in, or is a parent company of, have filled gaps in services of SIA. For example, routes dropped by Singapore Airlines, and later SilkAir, have been taken up by Tiger Airways. Together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, Singapore Airlines has managed an extensive network, catering to both business travellers and budget travellers. An Indian network was missing, and with Vistara, Singapore Airlines can offer its customers a near seamless experience and service – connecting them from various parts of India to its hubs at Singapore or stations in India, from where passengers can be connected to the rest of the world. With Singapore gradually losing out as a preferred global hub to the strategically located and aggressive Middle-East Asian hubs, through which a significant number of Indian passengers transit, capturing the Indian market, both directly and indirectly, is key. The Vistara strategy gains prominence in the light of the Jet – Etihad deal, which is aiding in diverting international traffic from India to the West.
Singapore’s deep involvement in the airline will bode well for Vistara – in terms of network, service, safety, and operational service metrics of on-time performance, in-flight service, and in-flight experience. Together with brand new aircraft, Vistara as a full service carrier driven by Singapore Airlines is poised to conquer the full service market over Indian skies.
With respect to type rating designation for the ATR 42/72 series, DGCA finally recognizes the same type rating (single license endorsement) for the existing ATR 42/72 variants and ATR-600 variants as “ATR42/72". This means that the flight crew on Jet Airways’ ATR 72-500 can now fly either the -600 variant or the -500 variant on a single day, but not both the types on the same day.
This allows Jet Airways to better utilise its turboprop flight crew, which until recently was affected by DGCA’s then non recognition of the common type rating for the two types.
With only 2 ATR 72-600 in its fleet, and more expected to be inducted, this recognition is welcomed as Jet Airways slowly phases out the -500 in favour of the -600. Further, Jet Airways will realise training cost savings from the newly opened ATR Training Centre at Singapore, which houses one ATR 72-600 FFS (Full Flight Simulator).
The common rating is allowed with a differences training. EASA recommends a differences training of 5 days, which includes and covers 28 hours of classroom instruction, web based training, and practice on the Virtual Hardware Platform Trainer (VHPT), and 4 hours per crew on a Full Flight Training device (FFT), such as a FFS.
The differences training between the two aircraft focus on:
Engine malfunctions during take-off;
Use of avionics in normal and abnormal / emergency operations, including FMA annunciations, caution and warning messages on the Engine & Warning Display (EWD), and associated human factors issues;
Use of Flight Management System (FMS);
Use of Electronic Checklist (ECL);
Ice detection and management systems and displays (including APM); and
Crew Resource Management (CRM) with regard to the new functionalities.