2013 was a very interesting year, with some events that have helped shape the future of the global and national (Indian) civil aviation sector. In this article, we look back at 2013, and relive in brief some of most important occurrences, events, and milestones.
Aircraft manufacturers and suppliers: Global
2013 marked 3 first flights from the top 3 airplane manufacturers: Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier.
The Airbus A350-900 took to the skies on 14th June, 2013, targeting a 12-month certification program with 5 airplanes, with a target entry into service in September 2014. The airplane has 814 orders, and is powered by the Rolls Royce Trent XWB: the largest jet engine powering an Airbus airplane. Airbus also began deliveries of its sharklet-equipped A320 airplanes, taking the A320 family one step closer to the NEO. The Pratt and Whitney PW1100G Gear TurboFan Engine that will power the A320NEO family took to the skies on 15th May, 2013.
Boeing officially launched the Boeing 777X: the largest, and claimed to be the most efficient twin engine jet in the world, at the 2013 Dubai Airshow in November 2013, with 259 orders, making it a successful airplane program that dethroned the former Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747. The 747-8’s production rates were slashed, while the 737’s production rate has ramped up. The only engine powering the 737MAX: the CFM LEAP-1B, is yet to begin testing, the design having been finalized in the May of 2013, soon after The Boeing 737MAX’s design was finalized on 23rd July 2013. The Aviation Partner’s split scimitar winglets look similar to the winglets which will feature on the new Boeing 737 MAX family. The first such winglet flew on a United 737-800 on the 16th of July, 2013. The Boeing 787-9 took to the skies, for the first time on the 17th of September, 2013. 787 issues continue to haunt the airframer.
Bombardier launched the CSeries’ certification campaign with the first flight of the CS100 on 16th September 2013, with an ambitious planned entry into service of the CSeries by 2014 end, which may slip to 2015. Sales of the Cseries aren’t encouraging, owing in large to the many firsts associated with the promising airplane and the manufacturer. The Cseries has been a game changer, forcing Airbus into the A320NEO, Boeing into the 737MAX, and Embraer into the EJet E2.
Embraer officially launched the E-Jet E2: reengined, re-winged, and stretched versions of the Embraer E190/195 and E175 jets, amidst a very encouraging response. The first E-jet E2 type, the E-190-E2, is expected to enter service in mid 2018.
ATR enjoyed a good Paris Airshow with orders for 173 airplanes: a pretty impressive performance in a limited market space.
The 747-8 and the A380’s sales have been disappointing, pointing to the market preference for airplanes with the capacity, range and flexibility of the widebody twins on offer by Airbus and Boeing.
Beechcraft, which came out of Bankruptcy, will be bought by Cessna’s parent, Textron Inc. Beechcraft, formerly Hawker-Beechcraft, no longer makes the Hawker business jets, training its focus on its line of propeller aircraft. Beechcraft’s King Air turboprop aircraft compliments the Cessna line up, which includes single engine pistons and turboprops, but no multi engine turboprop to fill the gap between its Caravan and light jets.
Mahindra Aerospace, which was rumored to be in the race to bid for Beechcraft Corp, inaugurated the its aero-structures manufacturing facility at the Narasapura Industrial Estate near Bangalore, in October 2013. Mahindra Aerospace aims to start manufacturing the eight-seat GA-8 Airvan aircraft at its new plant near Bangalore in the next two years, making it the first private general aviation / commute-aircraft manufacturing company in India. (There already are few companies that manufacture ultra lights, gliders, and powered hang gliders in the country, and these qualify as sport aviation aircarft)
Continental Motors bought the bankrupt assets of Thielert Aircraft Engines in June 2013, making the latter’s aero diesel engines once again attractive. An aircraft with a diesel engine can run off Aircraft Turbine Fuel (ATF, JET-A, INR 80/litre) instead of AVGAS (100LL, INE 180-190/litre).
Honeywell-Safran’s EGTS (Electric Green Taxi System) International achieved a major milestone when their Airbus A320 registered F-HGNT moved for the first time, in April 2013, without a tug or its engines, powered by the APU and driven by motors attached to the outer wheels of the main landing gear. The system claims to save upto 4% in total block fuel consumption, and saves the airline money through reduced brake and engine wear, FOD, and self pushback without a tug, amongst others. The Honeywell-Safram program got a boost when Airbus signed a MoU to develop the electric taxiing solution for the A320 family.
Air Travel in India witnessed whiffs of fresh air. Air Costa started operations on 15th October 2013 as a regional scheduled operator, with 2 leased Embraer E-175 aircraft. Towards late December 2013, the airline received two brand new, leased Embraer E-190 aircraft, registered VT-LBR and VT-LVR, taking the fleet size to 4.
Air Asia India was announced on 19th February, 2013, as a joint venture between Tata Sons, Air Asia Bhd, and Telstra Tradeplace. The airline will operate as a regional scheduled operator, keeping away from high demand Tier I routes, for now. Operations are expected to commence early-mid 2014.
Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines announced, to the chagrin of Telstra Tradeplace’s Arun Bhatia, a full service airline focused on International operations. The airline, yet to be Christened, has applied for a NOC, and operations are expected to start by mid 2014, with a fleet of narrowbody aircraft.
IndiGo, with the largest market share of 30%, reported a profit of INR 787 Crores, and was the only airline to report a profit in 2013, and for the 5th consecutive year. The airline’s promoter Rahul Bhatia hinted at a possible broadening of focus, eyeing Tier II and Tier III cities with smaller, regional aircraft. The airline ordered Airbus A321NEOS, available no sooner than 2017. The single aircraft type tag of IndiGo is no more.
Spicejet, with a 20% market share, reported its worst ever quarterly loss, ending Sep 2013, of INR 559 Crores. The airline is in need of funds, its CEO Neil Mills left the airline and moved to Phillipine Airlines Limited (PAL), the airline is unhappy with the 15 Q400s in its fleet, and has slipped on customer satisfaction ratings. The airline took on board Sanjiv Kapoor as the COO, who roped in Bain & Co to help restructure the airline. An investor for the airline is expected to be disclosed in January 2014.
Jet Airways, with a 17% market share (22.5% when clubbed with JetKonnect) became the first airline to receive Foreign Direct Investment: INR 2069 from Etihad by way of merger. The merger faces frequent anti-merger sentiments in court. The airline’s (Jet + Jet Konnect) Q2 losses almost touched 1,000 Crores.
GoAir, the 8 year old airline with a 9% market share, still has a small fleet of 17 aircraft, with an additional 3 expected in July, but has 72 Airbus A320NEOs on order. With 20 airplanes, the airline plans to start international operations. The low cost carrier plans to have a separate business class product, and is reportedly in talks with three airlines for foreign direct investment.
Kingfisher Airlines, which lost its operating permit late 2012, slipped into deeper hopelessness when the Karnataka High Court admitted a petition filed by a consortium of 14 banks, led by State Bank of India (SBI), seeking the winding up of the airline.
Air Mantra, a regional scheduled airline from the Religare group, operating with two Beechcraft 1900D for North India operations, ceased operations in March 2013 reportedly due to poor bookings. The airline operated for eight months.
Air India continues to baffle, offering competitive, low-cost like airfares on domestic sectors while operating as a full service airline. The airline is planning of selling 5 Boeing 777-200LRs to Etihad at prices that are far below the actual sale value of the new aircraft. It is the only operational airline to have not received a narrow body aircraft this year. The airline has faced a lot of issues from the 11 Boeing 787s in its fleet.
Two new airlines that started calling for flight crew in 2013, and may start operations in 2014 are Bangalore based Air Pegasus, with ATR 72 aircraft, and Delhi based SkyjetAir, which has plans to cover 9 cities with Airbus A320 aircraft. Zexus Air and ABC Airways, announced startups, may operate with Embraer 170/175 airplanes. Kairali Airlines, which announced in November 2013 plans to start operations in April 2014, hasn’t yet planned its fleet, and its Managing Director resigned over criminal accusations. The fleet may comprise of ATR 72 airplanes.
Passengers travelled on domestic routes in 2013* rose by 4.2% compared to 2012, but seat capacity grew by only 1.7%, leading to higher overall load factors. In line with the previous year’s trend, the month of May witnessed the highest passengers, capacity, and load factors, while the month of September witnessed the lowest traffic and load factors. However, capacity was surprisingly high in September 2013.
International passenger traffic* grew by 7.2% compared to 2012, but seat capacity grew by 7.5%, leading to slightly lower overall load factors on international flights. In line with the previous year’s trend, the month of January witnessed the highest passengers, but the load factors, like last year, were best in June. February witnessed a sudden slump to the lowest traffic, while in 2012, September recorded the lowest traffic. Unlike last year, the highest capacity was in July, which lead to the worst load factors.
*2013 data available for the 10 month period Jan-Oct.
Air Safety: India
IndiGo had two runway excursions, one at Bangalore, and another at Mumbai. And a bird strike at Agartala. A Spicejet Q400 suffered a tailstrike at Tuticorin. A JetKonnect Boeing 737 experienced an engine shutdown in flight, while Air India’s 787s proved to be problematic on atleast 5 occasions. A trainee pilot from IGRUA was lost in the only Indian fatal crash in 2013.
Aviation Administration: India
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of India Bill 2013 was introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2013, to provide full operational and financial autonomy to administer and regulate civil aviation safety, and manage safety oversight over air transport operators, air service navigation operators and operators of other civil aviation facilities. This bill follows the FAA Audit of the DGCA, in 2012, which found “severe deficiencies” and “unsatisfactory situation” in the DGCA. The CAA will be able to recruit, independently, professionals to fill posts. But in September 2013, the CAA Bill was sent to a standing committee, and is expected to take two years to form once passed.
The FAA conducted two safety audits in 2013: September, and December. This follows the ICAO audit in August. ICAO’s earlier audit had deemed the DGCA to have the worst safety oversight, a tag that was removed after the recent audit. 33 issues with the DGCA were identified by the FAA after the first audit. India’s Aviation Safety status, as deemed by the FAA will be known in a few weeks.
India added 80 aircraft this year, including the country’s first Cessna Citation Mustang, and the country’s second amphibian aircraft: A Cessna 206H. Out of a total of 1647 aircraft in the country, 1190 (72%) are powered fixed wing airline, business and general aviation airplanes, and 287 (17%) are helicopters, and 40 (2%) are ultralight, fixed wing sport aviation aircraft, and 25 (1%) are hang gliders, most of which are powered.
Of the 1190 powered airplanes, only about 415 fly for scheduled airlines. Of these, only about 150 are Boeing 737 family aircraft, and 160 Airbus A320 family aircraft. There are 15 Q400s, and 25 ATR 42 and 72 aircraft.
Flying Training & Licensing: India
The DGCA issued 629 Commercial Pilot Licenses, 41 Commercial Helicopter Pilot Licenses, 375 Airline Transport Pilot Licenses, and 15 Airline Transport Pilot-Helicopter licenses in 2013.
The Delhi High Court issued a judgement in May 2013 exempting AME training and Pilot training organizations from paying service tax, which in turn prohibits such organisations from collecting service tax.
The newest flying training school to mushroom is GMR-APFT based out of Hyderabad International Airport, which has 3 Diamond DA-40D diesel engine airplanes, and is soon to get a DA-42 twin aircraft.
Chimes Aviation Academy has initiated the process of converting some of their Cessna 172Rs to Thielert powered Diesel Engine airplanes. DGCA approval for the conversion has been granted.
Honeywell Technology Solutions Lab, which started its engineer-PPL training program in 2011, has upgraded the course in 2013 to include Instrument exposure. This is presently being done at Chimes Aviation Academy, under a corporate PPL program. The company is keen on providing its employees exposure to the Garmin G1000 system, with the hope of the engineers bringing back some good features and possible innovations to Honeywell’s general aviation product line.
In September 2013, the Lok Sabha passed the bill for the setup of a National Aviation University (NAU) in the name of Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University at Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Academy (IGRUA). The National Aviation University aims to facilitate and promote aviation studies, teaching, training and research with focus on emerging areas of studies such as aviation maintenance, management, aviation regulation and policy, aviation history, aviation science and engineering, aviation law, aviation safety and security, aviation medicine, search and rescue, transportation of dangerous goods, environmental studies and other related fields, and also to achieve excellence in these and connected fields in emerging areas and such areas as deemed necessary. The University will also be a knowledge partner to safety and security regulators by providing required academic inputs to help them execute their enforcement responsibility better.
In the July of 2013, the DGCA approved Flight Simulation Technique Centre Pvt Ltd (FSTC), Gurgaon, as a Type Rating Training Organization (TRTO) for Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 NG family of airplanes. FSTC, is a Joint Venture company with SIM Industries BV, Netherlands, a Lockheed Martin Company. The two simulators, one for each aircraft type, were installed in March 2012, and certified in August 2012.
In August 2013, CAE operationalised its full flight simulator centre at Greater Noida Industrial Area, about 40 kilometers southeast of Delhi, to provide “wet" and “dry" type-rating, recurrent, conversion and jet indoctrination training for commercial aircraft pilots. The facility has 2 Airbus A320 Level D simulators, and is CAE’s 5th training facility in the country.
Air Traffic System: India
The Air Traffic System in India moved closer to greater efficiency, reduced flight times, reduced delays and reduced fuel burn with the DGCA’s certification of the GPS aided geo augmented navigation (GAGAN) system. GAGAN improves the accuracy of a GNSS receiver, allowing for tailored arrivals, GPS approaches with localiser like precision, ability to operate with lower weather minimas, arrivals and approaches in areas with challenging terrain, and more direct flight routes.
Mumbai ATC got a new Air Traffic Control Tower, and Delhi’s ATC Tower is under construction. These two ATC towers are the tallest in the country. The Mumbai ATC Tower has already been inaugurated. Both were expected to become operational by 2013 end.
The last word
2013 was a big year for aviation, but with many programs having been initiated in the same year, 2014 is going to be a better, more exciting and interesting year for civil aviation: globally, and in India.