Today, India, for the size that it is, has only four airlines that fly international: Full service carriers (FSCs) Air India and its subsidiaries, and Jet Airways, and Low cost carriers (LCCs) SpiceJet and IndiGo. This is in contrast to the 10 airlines that operate domestic scheduled services in India, today. While Indian carriers flew 81 million domestic passengers in calendar year 2015 (CY2015), Indian carriers flew only 18 million passengers in the same period.
Only two airlines/airline groups operate short, medium and long haul international services: Air India and Jet Airways. Both airlines have diverse fleets: from short haul domestic ATR 72 turboprops to long haul international Boeing 777s. The LCCs in contrast have narrowbody jets that can cater only to short haul international services.
Due to the limitations of fleet and perhaps the lack of commercially attractive international destinations, LCCs IndiGo and SpiceJet deployed only 4.8% and 9.5% of their total flights on international, in CY2015. In contrast, Jet Airways (Including operations from the Jetlite AOP) deployed 22.1%, while Air India (Including Air India Express and Air India Regional (Alliance)) deployed 32.7% of its total flights on international. Air India and Jet Airways together contribute to 84.5% of all international departures by Indian carriers, while IndiGo and SpiceJet contribute to just 8.8% and 6.8% respectively.
This statistic shows IndiGo and SpiceJet are very small players in the international front, serving destinations at neighbouring countries. IndiGo operates only to five international destinations: Kathmandu (Nepal), Muscat (Oman), Singapore (Singapore), Bangkok (Thailand), and Dubai (U.A.E.), while SpiceJet operates only to six international destinations: Bangkok (Thailand), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dubai (U.A.E), Kabul (Afghanistan), Male (Maldives), and Muscat (Oman).
Air India and Jet Airways started operations before the 5/20 rule was instated in the year 2005. IndiGo and SpiceJet started operations after the 5/20 rule was introduced. The 5/20 rule requires airlines to operate domestic services for a minimum period of five years, after which it can fly international only if the airline has a fleet size of 20 or greater.
Air India Express was the only airline to start immediate international operations (although on an AOP different from Air India) after the 5/20 rule was introduced. The first flight of the airline was an international flight.
Neither IndiGo nor SpiceJet fought the 5/20 rule at that time as the focus of both airlines then, as it is today, is to tap the potential of the domestic market. SpiceJet started international operations in October 2010, while IndiGo commenced international operations in September 2011. Despite both LCCs having started international operations nearly five years ago, when the scale of domestic operations were smaller, both airlines chose not to focus on international operations. (See IndiGo’s fleet induction, here) Both airlines always had the option of inducting larger aircraft to serve destinations beyond the surrounding Asian and Middle East countries. But such is not their business model.
As a result, the only Indian carriers to majorly serve international are Air India and Jet Airways, both of which were not ‘victims’ of the 5/20 rule, whereas IndiGo and SpiceJet, which chose to focus on domestic even though they started international operations five years ago, are ‘victims’ of the 5/20 rule, strongly opposing the removal of the a rule that means nothing, and does not impact either airline..
Go Air started operations in the year 2005, but chose not to increase its fleet beyond 19 aircraft. It deferred its 20th aircraft, which was readied by Airbus. As a result, the airline does not fly international, and seems to have no issues remaining a domestic player. Yet, the airline opposes the removal of the 5/20 rule, though it chose not to operate international.
In the quarter ending 31st December 2015, a total of 12.6 million international passengers were carried by both Indian and international airlines. Of that number, Indian carriers flew just 4.5 million passengers, or just 36% of the total traffic.
India is underutilising its bilaterals, due to restrictions placed by rules such as the 5/20. For the purpose of this case, and for want of time, we consider only three international destinations: Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur.
As of late February 2016, there are three airlines from Singapore that operate to 13 destinations in India. Singapore Airlines, Tiger Airways and Silk Air together operate 134 flights per week to India, from Singapore, and an equal number of return flights. Together, the airlines deploy 30,517 seats per week between Singapore and India, in each direction, using a variety of aircraft: Airbus A319s, A320s, Boeing 737-800s, Airbus A330s, Boeing 777-200s, 777-300s, and Airbus A380.
In contrast, three Indian airlines (four if you count Air India Express separately) connect Singapore to only four destinations in India. Air India, Air India Express, Jet Airways and IndiGo together operate 63 flights per week between the two countries. Together, the airlines deploy just 13,244 seats per week between Singapore and India, in each direction, using Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-800s, Airbus A330-300s, and Boeing 787-8s.
Thai Airways, Thai AirAsia, and Bangkok Airways operate from Bangkok to eight destinations in India, flying 73 flights and deploying 19,497 seats per week, Using Airbus A320s, Boeing 747s, 777-200s, 777-300s, Airbus A330-300s, and Boeing 787-8s.
In contrast, SpiceJet, IndiGo, Jet Airways and Air India together operate 62 flights, deploying 12,474 seats per week, from four Indian destinations to Bangkok, using Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-800s, 737-900s, and Boeing 787-8s.
From Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia Berhad, AirAsia X, Malindo, and Malaysian Airlines operate 180 flights to 12 Indian destinations, deploying 32,903 seats per week between Malaysia and India, using Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-800s, 737-900s, and Airbus A330-300s.
In contrast, only Air India Express operates to Kuala Lumpur, connecting only Chennai to the Malaysian capital with 4 weekly flights and deploying 744 seats per week.
While not all destinations are commercially viable, there is a huge mismatch between the capacity deployed by foreign carriers, and the capacity deployed by Indian carriers, on the same set of routes. Infact, the superior connectivity offered by foreign carriers is not matched by Indian carriers, leaving a large scope for more Indian carriers to boost the Indian economy while also providing international passengers seamless domestic connectivity.
The 5/20 rule must go if India should see it’s own airlines connect India with the rest of the world.
What the FIA won’t tell you
The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), have something against the airlines of the Father of Indian Aviation (FIA), Late JRD Tata. The Tata’s have already done enough to promote connectivity within India: TATA airlines was renamed Air India.
The FIA (Federation) is shaken by the prospects of airlines such as Vistara and AirAsia India. The goal of the FIA is to restrict the operations of such airlines to within India, so that players like the market leader can use its low cost base to lower fares on every route such airlines fly, and bleed the airlines dry. Starting with the smallest and the least capitalised airlines, airlines will knock off the Indian scene, one by one, leaving only a few to operate in India, with the market player enjoying a huge monopoly in setting fares. At that point in time, India will suffer, with neither good international connectivity, nor with strong domestic competition nor worthy alternatives.
While the FIA blames consultancy firm KPMG of auditing Singapore Airlines and consulting for the government, it remains silent on consultancy firm CAPA.
CAPA India, in its Aviation Outlook 2016, stated, “Despite repeated statements by the Minister that there is no logic to the 5/20 rule and that it should be abolished, the discriminatory regulation still remains in place”.
Guess which consultancy firm’s services was sought for IndiGo’s Red Herring Prospectus? CAPA India.
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.
SpiceJet posted its third straight quarter of net profits, with the announcement of its Q2 results. The airline posted a net profit of INR 23.77 crore, but realised an operational loss of INR 27.91 crore. This loss includes the depreciation and amortisation expense of INR 30.36 crore. The airline has immensely benefitted from lower unit fuel costs which have dropped by 35% to INR 1.17/seat-km, compared to the same quarter last year. Higher load factors at the airline have driven up unit revenues by 7% over the same quarter last year.
Below is a detailed comparison of unit revenues between Q2’16 and Q2’15:
In Q2’15, the airline had an average sale (including ancillary revenue, which includes non-passenger revenue such as cargo) of INR 4,019 per passenger. In Q2’16, the airline had an average net sake of INR 3,750 per passenger. Although the airline was able to extract lesser per passenger, it flew more passengers, with the net effect being positive on the revenues.
Cargo performance has however been disappointing, with the airline flying on average 140kg lesser, per flight, in Q2’16 compared to Q2’15. This has resulted in a 7% drop in cargo carried per ASK. This however is partly explained by the shrinkage of the mainline jet fleet at SpiceJet.
Higher passengers, lower per-passenger sales, and lower cargo have resulted in a net 9% higher unit sales.
On the operating expense front, SpiceJet performed worse (on a unit basis) than the same quarter last year. The graph clearly shows that all unit costs have gone up, except for fuel, lease rentals, and aircraft redelivery expenses.
Average fuel prices in Q2’16 was 34% lower than in Q2’15. This has resulted in Spicejet’s unit fuelc osts falling by 35% (The 1% difference is due to the dissimilar fleet mix of Jets and Turboprops). Unit lease rentals have gone down due to a smaller fleet of mainline jets, and a higher utilisation of aircraft. In Q2’15, the airline re-delivered a large number of dry-leased Boeing 737s, which cost the airline much. In Q2’16, there were no re-deliveries of dry-leased aircraft, which has led to lower redelivery expenses.
All other unit costs are much higher, most notably due to the smaller scale of operations which has concentrated certain fixed costs. In Q2’16, the airline deployed 34% lesser capacity than in Q2’15. Yet, all these unit cost increases were offset by the drop in fuel prices.
In Q2’15, SpiceJet lost 69 paisa for every seat flown every kilometre. In Q2’16, SpiceJet lost 10 paisa for every seat flown every kilometre.
However, the unit EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation) in Q2’16 was INR 0.01/seat-km, which was an earning of INR 1 paisa for every seat flown every kilometre.
What pushed the quarter to profits?
“Other Income” of INR 72.7 crore, which included 65.4 crore “consequent to finalisation / revision of terms of settlement of earlier lease terminations with an aircraft lessor for three aircraft” tipped the airline into net profits.
Comparison to Q1’16
Q2’15 and Q2’16 are a year apart. In that one year gap, the airline went througha near-death experience and changed hands, making the usefulness of such a comparison limited. A comparison with Q1’16 allows for a better understanding of how things are shaping up at SpiceJet.
Average load factors in Q2’16 were higher than in Q1’16, despite Q1 historically being a season of peak travel demand, while Q2 is historically a lean season.
In Q2’16, compared to Q1’16, SpiceJet flew 5% more flights, carried 5% more passengers, yet carried 10% more cargo, resulting in 5% more cargo per flight. The airline carried on the same number of average passengers per flight : 121, in both quarters. However, the airline operated flight lengths that were 2% lower than in Q1.
Unit revenues were understandably lower in Q2 due to lower pricing power. Net sales per passenger dropped from INR 4,215 to INR 3,750, which resulted in a 8% drop in unit revenues.
On the cost front, fuel prices on average in Q2 had fallen by 9%, but resulted in just 8% unit fuel savings at SpiceJet due to the shorter flights. Lease rentals have perhaps gone up due to the wet leased A319 aircraft contributing to smaller capacity per flight, and the mainline fleet growing in size with no significant change in capacity. This is due to some aircraft going for scheduled maintenance in this period, which has also driven up maintenance costs. The US dollar being higher by 3% in Q2 over Q1 may have also added to the increased expense. However, airport charges have remained almost unchanged. Q2’s higher capacity of 2% brought down employee unit costs by 2%.
Other operating costs and other expenses going up by 27% and 9% respectively cannot be easily explained. Other operating costs were expected to remain the same, while other expenses were expected to fall by around 2%. The increase may be partly explained by increased selling costs (higher agent commissions – which may also explain the higher load factors), increased marketing spend, and training, among others. The airline has done something that has attracted higher expenses in Q2.
By qualification, profession(s) and practice, I am an engineer. My love for airplanes made me study everything technical about aviation, and hence the name, The Flying Engineer. I did get to practice a lot of it, and filed two US patents with a North American aerospace major before starting off on my own.
I never really liked studying airlines. Running an airline was something totally different from airplanes and technology. An airline with one aircraft could be profitable, and another airline with the same aircraft could be loss making. Unlike aircraft, an airline isn’t exact science. It’s a mix of forecasting science, luck, lots of funding, experimentation, government regulations, competition, glamour, God, and what not. It’s not exact, and can never be. I was, and largely still am allergic to things I cannot mathematically or logically explain.
Then came a transformation at SpiceJet. Suddenly, an ailing airline with tonnes of data had a new head. On November 1st, Sanjiv Kapoor boarded SpiceJet as COO. He pushed SpiceJet into an operation theatre and brought in surgeons like Kaneswaran Avili. It gave an opportunity to study an airline turnaround.
Sanjiv and his team spewed data. Now data is interesting, and more dependable than “we will do it”, “we can do it”, and “we did it”. Sanjiv talked of the “how” of things. That was a turning point in my interests.
He released a good amount of data on the airline’s performance. The airline even released fairly detailed reports (with lots of graphs). His western thinking gave food for thought and ‘growth’ to all those who sat, saw, heard, and reflected. His addiction on Twitter had nothing to do with selfies, or what he did. It was never about him. It was all about the airline : what the airline did, and how the airline did. He even took customer issues into his hands and resolved matters through his team. He is a man of “we”, not “I”.
For once, there was an Indian airline head who was active on social media, and spoke numbers. Now numbers for some of us give us kicks. His maturity, experience, and his emphasis on data was sufficient for me to believe that there are some who don’t hip shoot in the industry. Yet, not always was I in agreement with everything that was done, nor everything that was tweeted.
Following the developments at SpiceJet was my education about the industry. I am far from perfect, but I was lucky to have been guided, by circumstances and people. And thankful to SpiceJet for having conducted classes on airline economics for many of us. Lectured by Prof. Sanjiv, ofcourse.
I have consulted, briefly, for a few airlines, and had a chance to interview many airline heads. You’ll be surprised how very few heads are data and research driven, and even fewer process driven. IndiGo is largely data and process driven. They made sure it was in their blood from day one. Sanjiv, to the best of my very limited knowledge, attempted such a culture at SpiceJet.
He also opened up channels of communication at the airline, bringing in more transparency and clarity. His largely full service airline experience made him focus significantly on customer service. Under him, SpiceJet transformed into an airline that was neither machine-cold nor ‘hot and spicy’ – SpiceJet became perhaps the warmest airline in the country.
Towards mid 2014, one of the airplanes was stickered with the faces of six of the airline’s crew, becoming the first airline in India to fly the faces of its employees. The aircraft had SpiceJet’s tagline, “With all our heart”. In the last week of August 2015, the aircraft was stripped off its livery. Spicejet, many months earlier, had been re-branded as ‘Hot and Spicy’.
During his period, scientifically planned flash sales driven by Kaneswaran and Fares Kilpady helped sell seats that would have otherwise flown empty. It is a concept yet to be understood by many. Today, such sales have become an Indian industry norm. I was definitely not the only one who learnt from SpiceJet. The sales served two purposes – driving up unit revenues, and boosting cash flows. SpiceJet survived longer than it otherwise would have, had it not been for those sales. Salaries never stopped.
Not everyone though could appreciate what Sanjiv and his team did. At the end of the day, performance is real, and evaluation subjective.
From April 26th, 2015, Sanjiv’s Twitter handle ceased being “@SKapoorSpiceJet”. That one Twitter handle was revolutionary, educative and proactive. Exactly six months later, today, news broke of him stepping down. Thank you Sanjiv, and thank you, SpiceJet, for the turnaround and the education. It fuelled my hunger for math, numbers, equations, and logical reasoning. Your troubles educated us.
SpiceJet, which is the only low cost/fare airline in India to operate with more than one type of fleet, including Boeing 737-800s, Boeing 737-900s, Bombardier Q400 turboprops, today brought in more fleet diversity through the induction of a wet-leased Airbus A320.
The airline had wet-leased two Airbus A319s in the recent past, one of which (LZ-AOA) is still flying with SpiceJet. The A319 that is still flying for SpiceJet is from BHair (Balkan Holidays), and the Airbus A320 inducted today is also from the same operator. This is perhaps a symbol of confidence in operators in wet-leasing airplanes to SpiceJet, perhaps indicative of a more stable financial situation that allows for on-time payments. Boeing 737 wet leased aircraft that earlier flew for SpiceJet in the summer peak season have also returned for another peak-season term.
The Airbus A320 MSN 2863, registered LZ-BHH, previously flew for IndiGo as VT-INB. VT-INB was the second Airbus A320 to be inducted into IndiGo, and exited the fleet in 2012. Sale-Leaseback contracts at IndiGo were earlier for a period of 6 years, which has since been extended after 16 airplanes, following a sooner-than-needed capacity expansion after the collapse of Kingfisher in 2012.
With two Boeing 737-800s dry leased by SpiceJet in scheduled maintenance, the airline today has an active fleet of 23 mainline jets (Boeing 737-800s, Boeing 737-900s, Airbus A319, Airbus A320) and 13 Bombardier Q400s.
Besides all the visible innovations that SpiceJet is grabbing the headlines for, the airline is doing certain other things quite differently.
Any airline will like to make the most of a peak season by increasing flights, and providing increased connectivity and flight options. There are two ways to do this : by growing the fleet or by flying the airplanes harder. SpiceJet is doing both.
The airline does not yet seem to be ready to lease more airplanes the conventional way. It instead is wet leasing airplanes from eastern European airlines, which have capacity to spare. In the month of October, the airline will be inducting 6 Boeing 737s on a wet lease (ACMI lease) basis – which means the airline will not have to bother about flight crew, cabin crew, maintenance and insurance. Wet leases can turn out to be more expensive than a dry lease with in house crew, maintenance and insurance, but it offers SpiceJet one big advantage – to modulate its capacity to suit seasonal demand.
SpiceJet today is the only airline in India to be actively wet-leasing airplanes to bridge capacity shortfalls.
The airline presently has one Airbus A319 wet leased, and 2 of the 6 wet leased Boeing 737 NGs to be inducted this month have arrived – OK-TVX and OK-TSF. OK-TVX flew for SpiceJet during the summer peak season, along with two other Boeing 737-800s. The two 737s arrived on 8th October, 2015.
The airline’s remaining Boeing fleet is all dry leased, and the Q400s are owned. Of the 20 Boeing 737s, 16 are Boeing 737-800s and 4 are Boeing 737-900s. Before the 2 wet leased airplanes arrived, one Boeing 737-900 was undergoing heavy scheduled maintenance, ‘C’ checks. After the two leased airplanes arrived, a Boeing 737-800 went into scheduled maintenance. In total, the active narrow body mainline jet fleet as of today is comprised of 15 dry-leased Boeing 737-800s, 3 dry-leased Boeing 737-900s, 2 wet leased Boeing 737-800s and 1 wet leased Airbus A319, in addition to 14 Bombardier Q400 turboprops of which 13 are active. The total active fleet is 34 airplanes strong, which is expected to rise to around 40 during November-December. The peak season starts in a week’s time.
To aggressively take on the domestic and international markets despite a small fleet of airplanes, SpiceJet has been pushing its Boeing 737s to fly much harder than usual. Some of the Boeing 737s operate 19:30hrs, 17:50 and 16:35 hrs. These patterns flown by the 737s witness the airplanes flying hard during the day, and operate long international sectors at night/early morning.
Of the LCCs in India, only two fly international – SpiceJet and IndiGo. IndiGo, which also operates late night / early morning international flights, operates its airplanes only upto 17:45hrs of utilisation, on a pattern that involves a late night Chennai-Singapore return flight. One of the airline’s patterns is all-international with just 4 flights, MAA-DXB-TRV-DXB-MAA, which uses the airplane for 17:35hrs. Both these patterns, however, are not as heavy in utilisation as SpiceJet’s.
While SpiceJet pushing its airplanes to fly harder increases revenue potential and dilutes costs, it also results in a higher chance of cascading network delays in case one flight gets significantly delayed. Having significant gaps between patterns reduces the chances of the delays of one day from cascading into the second day.
On the Q400 front, the airline pushes certain Q400s to operate upto 13:15hrs per day, with an average, network-wide utilisation of around 11:30hrs. This is good for a turboprop that operates mostly domestic. SpiceJet’s Q400 turboprops are the only turboprops in India that fly scheduled international services.
In a previous piece, The Flying Engineer had estimated the operational profit of SpiceJet to lie in the INR “around or less than between INR 80 – 110 crore” range. The airline realised an operational profit of INR 70.7 crore. With the results declared exactly a week ago, we shall analyse the actual performance of the airline in Q1 FY 2015-16 (Q1’16).
We first start with costs, as an airline usually has a better grip on costs than revenues. Capacity is measured in seat-kilometres (Available Seat Kilometre – ASK), and costs and revenues, from operations, are referenced to unit capacity. We compare Q1’16 with the same quarter in the last financial year – Q1’15.
Average fuel price in Q1’16 was 28.4% lower than that in Q1’15. The fleet had also shrunk from a Bombardier Q400 : Boeing 737 ratio of around 1:2 to 1:1.3. This impacted fuel costs positively. Due to this ratio, a larger portion of the fuel burn was realised by the Q400s, which enjoy a flat 4% sales tax on fuel, as against as much as 28% sales tax in some airports, applicable to the Boeings. With operations being dominated more by the Q400s, which fly routes much shorter than the Boeings (upto 85% shorter routes on the domestic network), the average stage length had reduced, leading to an increase in the number of departures per unit capacity. More departures and hence landings per unit capacity translates to a higher fuel burn, but this was offset by the Q400’s lower fuel price and perhaps better fuel saving techniques employed at SpiceJet. Unit fuel costs fell by 30.3% despite fuel prices falling only 28.4%.
The changed turboprop : mainline jet fleet ratio also affected lease costs. The Q400s are owned, and hence no lease is paid for such airplanes. As a result, the lease costs of the Boeings (including the wet leased Boeings and Airbuses) were diluted over a capacity that was generated in a larger part by the Q400s. Unit lease rental costs fell by 12%.
Poor on time performance and increased cycles per unit capacity may have led to increased airport charges, though the Q400s do enjoy landing and navigation charges benefits. It is also possible that there may have been an increase in landing, navigation, other airport charges, in flight & other passenger amenities by authorities. Unit airport charges rose 14.8%.
Aircraft maintenance costs were dominated in larger part by the Q400s, which were also utilised higher. The US Dollar strengthened 6.1% against the rupee, which would have led to increased costs. Maintenance costs for each Boeing are expected to have remained largely unchanged. Unit maintenance costs rose by 14.9%.
The quarter witnessed no significant aircraft re-delivery activity, which dropped unit re-delivery expenses by 90.4%.
Other operating costs rose by 45.7% per unit.
Unit employee expenses were impacted by both having a smaller capacity, and the hike in salaries to crew to stop pilots from leaving the airline. This resulted in unit employee expenses rising by 25.5%.
Depreciation and Amortisation expenses are largely dominated by the Q400s. With lower capacity, this expense was rose on a unit basis. Unit Depreciation and Amortisation costs rose 36.2%.
Other expenses, which include a wide variety of costs including hotel and accommodation expenses for crew, dropped by 16.3% on a unit basis.
Overall, unit costs dropped by 12.8%, aided largely by the absence of significant re-delivery expenses and the steep fall in fuel prices. The airline has scope to further streamline costs in at least three areas, with the other areas being out of the airline’s control. When streamlined, either through practices or scale, unit total operational expenses may further fall by 4.3%. With the present scale of operations and in the present environment, this translates to INR 45 crore.
The cost structure at SpiceJet, Q1’16 v/s Q1’15 is shown below:
SpiceJet’s revenues were adversely impacted by lower airline capacity, poor on-time performance, and increased competition leading to lower prices. The first two factors may have made the airline lost high paying, time-sensitive and last minute (D0-D7) passengers. In the 13 month period June’14 to June’15, SpiceJet had the lowest OTP amongst private airlines for 9 months. Further, the cargo carried by the airline on a unit basis dropped by 4.9%, perhaps on account of Q400s dominating a larger part of the capacity. Unit sales fell by 1.1%.
Other operating income rose by 56%.
In total, operating revenues fell by 1% on a unit basis.
(If the Q1’15 P&L statement was not re-classified, unit revenue would have fallen by 2% during the comparison)
Per passenger Revenues
In Q1’15, the sales per passenger (includes ancillary revenue) was a good INR 5,006 per passenger (at re-classified P&L figures). In Q1’16, the the sales was INR 4,215 per passenger. This represents a drop of 15.8% in the sales per passenger.
Usually, a drop in the sales per passenger should not be a concern if the airline flies more passengers. However, a drop in net sales per passenger per ASK (the first number in the unit revenues and cost graph above) is a cause for worry. The drop was INR 0.05/seat-km). This shows that sales per passenger has dropped to a level that overall leads to lesser revenue despite very high load factors.
To put things in perspective, the below graph shows the per passenger sales required to achieve the same net sales from operations, with varying load factors. For example, flying with load factors of 55% at INR 6,939 sales per passenger will generate the same sales as flying 90% load factor at INR 4,240.
In Q1’16, SpiceJet had load factors of 90.5% (Domestic + International). In Q1’15, SpiceJet had load factors of 79% (Domestic + International). If SpiceJet was to have realised the same revenue in Q1’16 with only 79% load factors,the airline would have needed a per passenger sales of INR 4,833. However, the airline in Q1’15 (same quarter, last year) had a per passenger sale of INR 5,006.
This means that had SpiceJet flown with Q1’15 load factors and per-passenger sales, would have realised an increase in sales of 3.6% or INR 39.53 crore in Q1’16. This shows that increase in load factors does not always imply an increase in either Revenue per seat kilometer (RASK) or total revenues.
To have realised this additional INR 39.53 crore, SpiceJet should have generated sales of INR 4,366 per passenger (+INR 151) in Q1’16 at 90.5% load factors.
Of course, unit revenues (RASK) is the most reliable method of gauging performance. But, in the case where RASK falls, the argument above is used to show that the load factor game must be played carefully.
The above argument does not consider the fact that per passenger sales and/or RASK (RASK and per-passenger sales are not directly comparable) can be safely reduced when per passenger costs and/or CASK also reduce. Ultimately, profit is driven by the difference of revenues and costs, and not determined by either revenues or costs alone.
Unit operating profit rose by 201%, despite a fall in unit revenues, largely due to a fall in costs. Fuel today accounts for 35% of the SpiceJet’s operating expenses. Last year, for the same quarter, fuel accounted for 43% of SpiceJet’s operating expenses. If aircraft fuel prices were at the 2014 April-June levels, the airline would have flown into the red.
Had the airline maintained the unit revenues (RASK) of Q1’15, the airline would have generated an additional INR 11.4 crore over the Q1’16 operating revenue of INR 1,106 crore.
Other income at the airline was INR 26.7 crore, against INR 28.9 crore in Q1’15 (re-classified).
Finance Costs in the airline was INR 25.5 crore, against INR 48.7 crore in Q1’15
Profit before tax
In Q1’16, other income (not from operations) and finance costs are almost equal, cancelling out each other. This makes profit in Q1’16 solely due to operating profits, unlike the Q4’15 quarter (ending March 31st 2015) where the airline stepped into profits due to the insurance payoff. Operating loss in Q4’15 was INR 102 crore. Operating loss before depreciation and amortisation expenses was INR 72 crore.
Hot and Spicy or Red?
The Hot and Spicy part is the reduction in finance costs. The Red part in in the operational costs and revenues. Overall, the airline has the potential to perform much better, and hence we’d consider the performance Red, despite the profit. The turnaround has started, but the airline is not yet ‘there’. Costs have to lean and revenues must grow. Good on time performance (OTP) is key. As seen above, sale per passenger and RASK have taken a hit, perhaps largely due to the poor OTP of SpiceJet, and in part due to competition.
Comparison to Estimate
In the estimate of SpiceJet’s Q1’16 performance (click here to read), our estimate of total operating expenses was lesser by 0.26%, while our estimate of revenue from operations was higher by 1.67%. Changes in accounting practices (re-classification, as declared in the Q1’16 financial results) have also impacted the estimate errors. The lower or our estimate of the airline’s operating profit was higher than the actual by 13%. Below is the comparison:
Hyderabad based TruJet, brand name of Turbo Megha Airways Private Limited, is India’s 9th operational private airline, the country’s third operational regional scheduled domestic airline, and the country’s second all-turboprop, operational airline.
Turbo Megha Airways Private Limited was incorporated in March 2013, by three persons: Vankayalapati Umesh, Ram Charan Tej Konidala, and Ram’s sister, Sushmita Laggishetty.
46 year old Umesh, who serves as the Managing Director (MD) of the airline, rose from a ground-handling technician to running Turbo Aviation, which includes a jet charter company ‘Turbo Charter’ that owns a Cessna CitationCJ2. Turbo Aviation also offers ground handling services, CAMO services, and MRO Services.
30 year old Ram Charan is a Telugu Actor, and a director of MAA TV and reportedly owns Hyderabad Polo Horse Riding club. He and his older sister Sushmita are two of three children to 59 year old actor, producer, and Indian National Congress politician Konidela Siva Sankara Vara Prasad alias ‘Chiranjeevi’.
The company had an authorized share capital of INR 15 crores (INR 150 million), which was 3 Crores more than the minimum paid up capital requirement for an airline operating turboprop aircraft of the likes of ATR 72 and Q400, or regional jets like the Embraer E170, 175 and CRJ 700 and 900. Seating capacity was hence limited to the 70 – 90 seat category.
In May 2013, the airline pumped in INR 7 crores as capital, followed by another 5 crores which took the total paid up capital to 12 crores in July 2013 – sufficient to satisfy the DGCA requirement for the application of a regional permit.
In July 2014 – a year later, the airline received its no objection certificate (NOC) that allowed the airline to start the process towards obtaining an air operator permit (AOP). The formal application meeting for a southern regional AOP was held on 23rd January 2015.
In April 2015, the authorized share capital of the airline was increased to INR 50 crores, which can allow for a paid up capital of the same amount – the amount advised by the DGCA. This also allows the airline to apply for a pan-India license with larger airplanes.
In May 2015, Prem Kumar Pandey, Assistant Vice President at Megha Engineering & Infrastructures Ltd (MEIL), was appointed as a director, with investment from MEIL. 29 year old Prem is the son-in-law of one of the promoters of MEIL. ‘Megha’ in the registered name Turbo Megha Airways Private Limited indicates that investment from MEIL was certain way back in 2013.
Shareholding pattern in the airline is believed to have been restructured to stand as 22%-26%-52% between Umesh – Charan & family – MEIL, with access to around an additional INR 100 crore.
The airline received its first of two ATR 72-500 aircraft on 21st May 2015. The aircraft had earlier flown for the Malaysian airline and charter operator Berjaya Air. The 6 year old aircraft MSN 858 is registered VT-TMK, and the cabin is laid out with 72 seats. A month later, the airline received its second ATR 72-500 (MSN 875). After Berjaya shut turboprop operations, both aircraft were purchased by Singapore based Phoenix Aircraft Leasing, and were sold to Ireland based Elix Aviation Capital Services in December 2014. Elix has dry-leased the airplanes to TruJet. The same lessor has leased airplanes to Bangalore based Air Pegasus, which is a smart move as it helps transfer assets between operators should either shut operations.
The airline received its AOP on 7th July 2015, less than a year since obtaining its NOC, and around one-and-a-half months since receiving its first aircraft, making it the fastest regional Indian airline to obtain its AOP. Turbo Aviation’s experience with running a charter service which resulted in good preparedness, and the airline’s connections in the ministry are believed to have speeded up the process.
Trujet is an interesting name considering the airline operates turboprop aircraft for now. However, it must be borne in mind that a turboprop engine’s core is a jet engine.
According to the airline, ‘Trujet logo is inspired by the national bird of India peacock and represents all that the TruJet service aspires to be— graceful, joyful and luxurious. The logo also conveys attributes of service, professionalism, sophistication and, importantly, the airline’s Indian roots.’
Network, Operations & Competition
Usually, airlines take about a week to open for bookings once the AOP is received. Once bookings open, an airline starts operations usually 2-4 weeks thereafter. This allows sufficient bookings to build up before operations can commence.
In the case of Trujet, the airline wanted to cash in on the Pushkaram festival, an Indian festival dedicated to worshiping of rivers, once every 12 years. The airline started operations with one aircraft on 12th July, flying between Hyderabad, Chennai, Tirupati, and Rajamundry.
On 26th July, the airline commenced its regular, non-seasonal operations with one aircraft, connecting Aurangabad, Tirupati and Rajamundry to Hyderabad. All three destinations are significantly driven by religious tourism. Aurangabad is an airport very close to a religious destination – Shirdi. The airline stopped services to Chennai from 26th July.
Presently, the airline operates a double Hyderabad-Tirupati service, and single Hyderabad- Rajamundry and Hyderabad-Aurangabad services. With this, the airline operates 8 flights a day, clocking 10:20 hours of utilisation with turn-around times of 25 minutes. Average block time is 1:20 hours, and average sector distances are 220NM. With such sectors, the aircraft can be pushed (subject to commercial and operational viability) to fly a maximum of 10 flights a day with a utilisation totaling a little over 13 hours a day. However, the present utilisation is good for a startup airline.
The second aircraft is expected to be operationally ready in a week’s time, and will fly sectors out of Chennai.
At the time of research, Trujet’s frequency between Hyderabad and Tirupati, both ways, is twice daily, against 6 flights onward and 8 flights on the return. Aircraft deployed on the sector are in the 70-80 seat category including Air Costa’s Embraer E170s and SpiceJet’s Q400s. However, Air India deploys 172 seat A321s and 48 seat ATR 42s on that route.
On the Hyderabad-Aurangabad sector, Trujet enjoys a monopoly.
On the Hyderabad – Rajamundry sector, Trujet’s single frequency competes with SpiceJet’s 1 onward and 2 return frequencies, and Jet Airways’ three frequencies either way. While SpiceJet deploys its 78 seat Bombardier Q400s on the route, Jet Airways deploys ATR 72-500s. Difference in speeds between the two types result in only 5-10 minutes of block time difference.
The airline offers a transit (no change of flight) service between Tirupati and Aurangabad via Hyderabad.
A flat 4% sales tax on fuel (in comparison to upto 28%) for aircraft operating scheduled serviced with less than 80 seats, and a waiver of airport charges for aircraft of such weight category will keep direct operating costs at Trujet lean. The operating economics of the ATR 72, which is best suited for such mission lengths, will further contribute to a lean operating structure.
Maintenance of the aircraft is carried out in house at Turbo Aviation’s maintenance facility, which has an approval for the aircraft type.
The airline has a very simple fare model that has 13 active fare buckets. Fares for all sectors in corresponding buckets are the same fare, whether a direct or a hopping flight. There seems to be no discounted one-way fares for return flights. Adaptation to sectors that are higher in demand or longer is achieved by erasing lower fare buckets. The first 9 buckets are in flat INR 500 increments, and the last 4 buckets are in increasing increments. The airline will reportedly offer 10% discount for senior citizens, students below 18 years, members of the South India Artistes’ Association and those from the film fraternity.
Trujet may become the only airline in India to offer a comprehensive travel solution. To cater to passengers whose wish to be connected to cities or towns that do not have an airport, the airline plans of introducing Volvo bus services that pick up passengers to drop them at the airport, and pick up passengers from airports to drop them at their actual destinations such as Shirdi. The airline reportedly plans to assume full responsibility of baggage handling at the bus pick up point, the airport, and the bus drop point.
The airline reportedly offers a complimentary in-flight meal.
The airline has reportedly identified 18 tier-II towns and cities in the south for operations. Most major airport cities in the southern region show promise.
Some of the other destinations, as made public earlier, are Mangalore, Vijayawada, Bangalore, Hubli, Vishakhapatnam, Tuticorin, Coimbatore, Salem, and Kadapa. The airline’s new destinations are expected to be announced when the second aircraft is ready to fly online, as the first aircraft’s rotation has no room to accommodate new flights.
The airline reportedly has plans to increase the fleet to around 5 aircraft by March 2016. The fleet is reportedly expected to touch a size of 4 in January 2016.
The airline is targeting a break even period of 12 – 24 months. This translates to a break even between Q1’17 and Q1’18.
A regional model with turboprops makes for a good feeder model, and may be sustainable in low capacity high demand routes, but may saturate fast without room for growth in connectivity. The ATR 72 is ideal for sectors of upto 1:45 hrs block time. For real growth, an airline must look beyond mere regional connectivity, and will need to offer pan India, inter-regional connectivity, which is commercially and operationally viable with regional jets. The airline is reportedly taking steps towards expanding its operational territory beyond the southern region into neighboring regions, for now with its turboprop aircraft.
The airline may adopt a dual-fleet strategy for a good combination of range, connectivity, and penetration.
It is to be seen if the airline becomes the first regional operator to convert to a pan-India license.
The Flying Engineer offered comments on Trujet to Business Standard, based on this research . Click Here to read.
SpiceJet had a great opportunity to report profits in Q3’15 (the quarter ending December 31st, 2014). It didn’t. Before the quarter could conclude, the airline had stalled.
Then there was a stall-recovery. The Marans got out and Ajay Singh got in. The very next quarter, Q4’15, saw the airline posting a net profit thanks to an insurance claim from a Q400 that was written off at Hubli.
Legacy issues, one time costs, redelivery expenses, economic slowdown, high dollar rates, and high fuel prices were some of the reasons given in the past. This time around, the situation is much better. Ajay is doing a good job renegotiating contracts in manners that benefit the airline.
SpiceJet introduced the Q400s in 2011 as a game changer. The move was not in line with what low cost carriers world over had practiced. After Air Deccan, SpiceJet became the second low cost carrier (which we prefer to call low fare carrier) in India to adopt a dual fleet strategy.
The reasoning was simple enough. First, India is a country where certain routes are saturated while many routes with potential are unexplored. This is largely due to the misconception of a ‘one aircraft fits all’ strategy. Having an oversized airplane (in terms of seats) fly on routes that have insufficient demand only leads to poor control on pricing and revenue management. The hope that some routes will eventually grow to cater to the large jet is unwise. The right sized airplane matters. Second, blindly copying and pasting to India a low cost model that worked wonders overseas is again unwise. Every market is unique, and requires its own study.
But perhaps, SpiceJet wasn’t ready to handle the Q400. Perhaps, SpiceJet did not pull off a good deal with Bombardier. Perhaps, SpiceJet’s study was half baked. Perhaps, SpiceJet was short sighted and the turboprop may have performed better in the hands of a smarter, shrewder operator. But most importantly, perhaps the Q400 fleet and staff were meted with a step-motherly treatment.
Optimisations in the Q400 fleet are only now becoming visible. Ajay Singh is using pressure tactics to squeeze Bombardier to give the airline more. A few Q400s are expected to join the fleet, with the insurance payoff from the Q400 that was written off in a runway excursion at Hubli. The Q400 fleet size reduced to 14 Q400s from 15, and one Q400 that was cannibalised has now been restored and is apparently due for a maintenance test flight. The airline has also started to optimally fly its airplanes, to realise fuel savings and time savings. Time saved can accumulate to fly an additional sector. The airline is also working to better integrate the Q400 network with its Boeing network. After all, the Q400s are intended to primarily serve as feeders. Salaries of the Q400 flight crew have been brought on par with those on the Boeings.
The airline, four years late, has realised that the Q400 cannot play the ATR game. The Q400 must play the Q400 game. The turboprop has been designed to cater to routes that are as thin as the ATR’s, but longer than what the ATR s suited to fly. And that the USP of the Q400 is its speed.
The difference between the games of the Q400s and ATR72s? The Q400 focuses on maximising revenuepotential, while the ATR72 focuses on minimising costs. Those aren’t the same variety of apples to compare.
Simply put, the management wasn’t ready for the Q400.
The Q400s, today
As of today, 13 of the 14 Q400s in the airline’s fleet are active, with the 14th expected to join soon. Effective 16th July, these 13 Q400s will operate 116 flights a day, operating for a total of 149:20 hours each day, and deploying a capacity of 9048 seats on the network, daily.
Each Q400 flies on average almost 9 flights a day, and is utilised to just a minute short of 11:30 hrs per day, per aircraft. A year ago, the utilisation was at 10:20 hrs.
Of the 116 departures, the airline flies 76 routes (where the onward and the return are treated separately) between 38 city pairs. This is on average a frequency of 1.5 on each route. The Q400s serve 28 destinations, resulting in an average of 1.3 city pairs from each destination.
Of the 38 city pairs, 10 are monopoly sectors. Of the 38 city pairs, 34 are exclusively operated by the Q400s by SpiceJet. Of the 28 destinations, 15 are exclusively Q400 destinations. Refer the diagram below.
The Q400 flies the longest turboprop sector in India, between Jabalpur and Mumbai. Sectors like this are what the Q400 are better suited for: longer than those of an ATR, shorter than those suited for a jet. Monopoly sectors are in yellow. Nearly 90% of the city pairs are exclusively operated by the Q400 at SpiceJet.
Block times for the sectors do not necessarily match the distances. The sector block times, for the same sectors in the same order, are graphed below: