Air Costa Moves Closer to Commencing Operations

After many months of waiting for the necessary approvals, LEPL-Group promoted Air Costa has finally received clearance to begin scheduled operations from India’s aviation regulator, the DGCA. Using Embraer E-170 regional jet aircraft, the airline plans to link Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad from its regional hub of Vijayawada.

Air Costa E-170

Photo: Embraer

It’s not an easy time for the aviation industry in India – regional airline Air Mantra folded earlier this year after less than 9 months of operation. Indian scheduled carriers have lost billions of dollars this year alone. Air Costa hopes that its focus on regional operations in what it considers to be an underserved area of India will yield positive results.

Air Costa plans to be a low-fare carrier, but it also will be utilizing a 2-class cabin configuration. In India, only JetKonnect currently utilizes such a model – other low-fare carriers have chosen to utilize single class configurations to lower costs.

Tickets will be available for booking on http://aircosta.in in the coming weeks.

SpiceJet Continues International Expansion

Continuing its rapid growth in the international market, SpiceJet has announced service to Sharjah from Pune. Commencing on September 21st, SpiceJet will fly Pune-Sharjah-Pune 4 times weekly on its 189-seat 737-800 aircraft.

Flight No. Departure Arrival Aircraft Days
SG 051 PNQ 22:30 SHJ 00:25 +1 737-800 Mo/We/Th/Sa
SG 052 SHJ 01:25 PNQ 06:00 737-800 Tu/Th/Fr/Su

 

While the timings aren’t particularly appealing, they allow SpiceJet to utilize an aircraft which otherwise would be unutilized overnight. In addition, Pune’s Indian Air Force controlled airport is notoriously difficult to get slots at, so it is an achievement in many ways that SpiceJet is able to operate this flight at all.

SpiceJet Route Map Aug 2013Pune is the latest inclusion in SpiceJet’s interesting international strategy of connecting secondary cities with big city destinations. SpiceJet has been experimenting with this niche – it has already connected Sharjah with Varanasi and Lucknow, cities which previously were lacking sufficient nonstop Gulf connections despite large migrant worker populations. SpiceJet also flies from Madurai to Columbo, and it will be commencing a flight from Ahmedabad to Muscat next month.

SpiceJet has also been working on connecting major Indian cities with smaller destinations – SpiceJet’s flights to Kabul, Afghanistan and Guangzhou, China from Delhi have been hugely successful. The out-of-the-box thinking displayed by SpiceJet’s market route planning team is very impressive.

SpiceJet has also stated intention to connect Pune with Bangkok, either via nonstop or direct flight. A formal announcement of this route is expected in the coming weeks.

IndiGo Becomes First Indian Carrier To Take Delivery of A320 with Sharklets

Image Courtesy of IndiGo

Image Courtesy of IndiGo

IndiGo has become the first Indian carrier to take delivery of an A320 with Sharklets.

From the press release:

Sharklets are newly designed wing-tip devices that improve the aircraft’s aerodynamics and significantly cut the airline’s fuel burn and emissions by four per cent on longer sectors. This milestone makes 6E the first airline globally to introduce on A320 aircraft powered by IAE engines. Sharklets are an option on new-build A320 Family aircraft, and standard on all members of the A320neo Family. They offer the flexibility to A320 Family operators of either adding around 100 nautical miles more range or allowing increased payload capability of up to 450 kilograms. All future A320 aircraft to be delivered to IndiGo shall be fitted with the Sharklet wing tip devices.

Sharklet’s are Airbus’ answer to winglets, similar wing-tip devices which have long graced the tails of Boeing aircraft. They will help cut IndiGo’s operating costs significantly, improving the balance sheet of the airline which is already the most profitable in the country.

Air India’s Safety Record Comes Under Fire?

You may have heard that Air India is the 3rd most dangerous carrier in the world. Major news organizations have been publicizing this idea greatly over the past few days.

This ranking is done by the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC), and our media, without even looking at what “evaluation” this organization actually did, has decided to widely publicize this fact to the world.

VT-EFO, the aircraft involved in the Air India 182 terrorist attack in 1985

The methodology which JACDEC uses to declare Air India unsafe is ridiculous, fortunately for everyone expecting to fly AI. They have based Air India’s poor ranking on the fact that Air India has had 329 casualties over the past 30 years.

Now, 329 casualties is a lot. 329 people dying is like a full Boeing 747 crashing!

– Which is incidentally what happened. 27 years ago, an Air India 747-200 was on the receiving end of a terrorist attack, and everybody died.

Using this event to declare Air India unsafe is ridiculous. It’s not like Air India gets to control whether terrorists attack. Indeed, it was found that Canadian security procedures were lacking.

JACDEC rankings should be ignored, as they are not helpful at telling anything about safety. Shame on the media for propagating such logically weak claims.

 

Edit: I’ve been asked by a reader how Air India’s safety record actually is. Overall, all the airlines in India are pretty safe, and Air India is no exception. The airline has passed IATA Operational Safety Audits continuously since they were introduced a decade ago. Air India also has passed the IATA Safety Audit Program for Ground Operations, being the only airline of India to do so.

India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation Backtracks, Cancels Proposed Policy Change Regarding Ground Handling at Metro Airports

Reading through the headlines of The Pioneer this morning, one grabbed my eye. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is backtracking on their decision to restrict the ground handling industry.

Back in 2007, a proposal was put forward to only allow 3 companies can handle for airlines at metro airports (Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata). Singapore Air Terminal Services (AI-SATS), a company chosen by the airport operator, and a company chosen by competitive bidding. All airlines, including international carriers, would have been forced to contract out their ground handling to one of these 3 companies.

This policy was set to take effect in December. The Ministry of Civil Aviation justified this proposal using a vague “security purposes” argument. It still isn’t quite clear what the security advantages of this proposed policy is.

As you can imagine, the airlines didn’t like this proposed policy at all. Reducing competition would only drive up costs and reduce quality of services, something which India’s financially troubled carriers can’t really afford right now. They went to court to try to get the implementation of the proposal stopped, and the court decision was expected early next month.

I’m happy to hear that airlines didn’t have to waste money on that court appearance. The Ministry’s decision seems almost shockingly rational, considering their track record recently. I guess Ajit Singh is in a good mood these days…

Have Indian Carriers Missed the Boat on Alliance Membership?

It has been a very turbulent few weeks for oneworld alliance. A few weeks ago, Qantas and Emirates announced a close cooperation agreement for Australia-Europe traffic. Then, earlier this week, it was announced that Etihad, Air Berlin, and Air France-KLM are entering a cooperative agreement. Air Berlin is also a oneworld member, but it appears that it, along with Etihad, are actually lining up more with SkyTeam Alliance members. Then, later on the same day, it was announced that Qatar Airways is joining oneworld alliance, in cooperation with British Airways.

What can clearly be seen from these 3 moves is that oneworld is splintering, with each of the three Gulf carriers pulling their preferred partners in different directions. It is showcasing the new paradigm which will appear over the next few years – individual carriers will closely align with other carriers which suit their needs best, instead of focusing on which carriers will suit the alliance best.

“Oneworld is secondary [for Air Berlin],” Etihad’s CEO James Hogan was quoted as saying recently. Etihad took a ~30% stake in Air Berlin some time back.  Instead, Air Berlin will focus on creating synergies and aligning networks with Etihad, Air France, and KLM, despite the fact that none of the carriers mentioned are fellow oneworld partners.

Similarly, Qantas has aggressively been pursuing a strategy of aligning with partners which are most valuable. With service to Africa, the airline has for years worked with South African Airways, despite the fact that they are in different alliances. With the new agreement with Emirates, oneworld partners will become secondary for services to Europe.

A similar phenomenon can be observed in other alliances as well. Delta Air Lines has aligned with Virgin Australia on USA-Australia sectors, despite not being alliance partners.

In every alliance, the core group of partners has gotten anti-trust immunity and agreed to lucrative joint ventures* on trans-atlantic sectors, pushing the concept of metal-neutrality. Metal neutrality is where carriers find it equally profitable for a passenger to be carried on its aircraft or its competitor’s aircraft, allowing better utilization and fleet planning. Delta Airlines operates a variety of services from the USA to Paris and Amsterdam from non-hub cities because it has a better cost profile and aircraft for those specific missions.

*An interesting read on the advantages of joint-ventures can be found here.

Star Alliance has taken joint ventures even further – United, Lufthansa Group, and All Nippon Airways all have joint ventures with each other, forming a core group of partners which strengthens the alliance and keeps it together.

But the alliance is not an imperative part of any of this – carriers are perfectly capable of creating bilateral partnerships to suit their own needs. Removing alliances is removing an unnecessary middleman which simply adds costs and complications. And as alliances get larger and more unwieldy, they will reduce in importance – carriers will focus more on their individual goals.

This splinter in oneworld is the beginning of the end of alliances as we know them…

***

While these events were happening on the other end of the globe, Civil Aviation Ministry Ajit Singh was busy drafting a letter begging for Air India to be granted entry into Star Alliance. Indeed, there were some decent points about how Lufthansa took advantage of benefits given for being partners with Air India without returning the expected favor, but it is quite honestly irrelevant at this point. The 2000s was the decade of the alliance, and Air India is desperate to get in on that action, just as it is coming to an end. And let’s not discuss Jet Airways, which has sent so many mixed signals that we have to wonder whether they will ever get around to that love affair with Lufthansa which they profess to desire.

Jet, at least, has developed some kind of strategy regarding airline partners. They are willing to partner with practically everybody, from bmi to Barista Lavazza. The carrier has thrived on the business of feeding other carriers’ operations from India, and therefore they are eager to codeshare with every airline possible – it increases the route network and potential market without Jet actually having to fund expansion.

Air India, on the other hand, has relatively few partners. Mileage in Flying Returns, the frequent flyer program, can only be accrued on two partners – Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. The carrier has blindly pursued Star Alliance membership and all the potential partners without evaluating further possibilities. And indeed, that may be one of the reasons why Air India has such limited support from within Star Alliance – they are only (very loosely) aligned with two carriers out of a group of 28! Then, there was the proposed cooperation with Adria Airways and a scissor hub in Ljubljana which they spent far too much time considering, but I won’t go there…

One has to wonder why Jet Airways and Air India aren’t actively pursuing deeper cooperation with strategically important partners instead of sitting back and waiting for potential alliance membership to solve all their problems. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Letter to Ajit Singh: Salary Delays at Air India

While the controversy over the suicide of the wife of a Kingfisher employee ensues, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Union (ICPA) which represents Indian Airlines pilots has sent a letter to Minister of Civil Aviation Ajit Singh regarding the salary delays faced at Air India.

The text of the letter can be read below:

Ref No: ICPA/MAA/GS/2012/13

6th October 2012.

To:
The Hon’ble Minister of Civil Aviation
Govt. of India,
Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan,
Safdarjung  Airport
New Delhi – 110 003.
Sub:  Mounting Financial Worries.

Respected Sir,

We have come to know from media reports that the wife of an engineer employed by Kingfisher Airlines has unfortunately committed suicide due to mounting financial worries. The particular individual may have resorted to such an extreme step due to unbearable stress. Sir, we wish to draw your attention to the fact that matters at Air India are not too different from that at Kingfisher Airlines.

Our salaries and flying allowances too are pending for months and the uncertainty regarding the schedule of payments has become unbearable. In fact last year, an engineer belonging to Air India too had committed suicide due to financial worries.When the bills pile up and the credit card balance grows, things can feel down-right unbearable. Financial stress can also negatively, even severely  impact things outside of one’s wallet: one’s health, one’s performance in the job and relationships at home. An unsatisfied employee cannot keep up efficiency for long as his financial worries take over his thought process. A stressed pilot is a potential disaster in waiting.

Sir, in an interview on the 5th of Oct ’12, you have stated that  “if the employees are disgruntled then there is an issue with the safety of the  plane even if it is on ground”. We appreciate your concern towards employees who had not been paid for several months and your understanding of the fact that this directly affects the Safety of the Flight.

In this context we humbly request you to kindly intervene at the earliest and restore normalcy in our lives which unfortunately has been lacking for the past 3 years.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

(CAPT.T. PRAVEEN KEERTHI)

GENERAL SECRETARY – ICPA

INDIAN COMMERCIAL PILOTS’ ASSOCIATION

UNITY     INTEGRITY     DIGNITY     SAFETY

Cc: Chairman & Managing Director, Air India Ltd, Mumbai.
The Chief Labour Commissioner (Central), Rafi Marg, New Delhi.
DGCA., Govt. of India, New Delhi.
Executive Director (Finance), Air India Ltd., Mumbai.
Executive Director (IR), Air India Ltd., New Delhi.
General Manager (Operations) In-charge Airbus Fleet, Air India Ltd., New Delhi.
Civil Aviation Secretary, Govt. of India, New Delhi.

While there has been a lot of coverage about the non-payment of salaries to Kingfisher employees, there has been little coverage of the fact that the same issues are plaguing other carriers as well. Air India’s salaries are still being delayed, while Jet Airways was delaying salaries earlier this year as well due to financial trouble. It really is sad to see the poor state which our aviation system is in.

Unfortunately for the ICPA pilots who have written this letter, it is unlikely to do much. The IPG, representing erstwhile Air India pilots, has noted that the Ministry of Civil Aviation has in fact been forcing Air India to ignore the salary issue and pay other bills instead.

Strike Grounds Kingfisher

Kingfisher has cancelled all its flights because of an unofficial strike declared by engineers and pilots. The airline has put out a press release on the topic as well.

Kingfisher employees are protesting the non-payment of salaries for months now. However, the protests reached a new level when striking ground handlers beat up an executive and held passengers hostage aboard their aircraft for hours.

The DGCA (regulator) is reviewing the situation. With all aircraft grounded, Kingfisher does not qualify for an AOC any longer – a minimum of 5 operational aircraft are necessary to maintain the permit.

Since there are no engineers available to certify aircraft for operations due to the strike, Kingfisher has approached Air India. IndiGo, and Jet Airways for the same.

Kingfisher has also stopped selling tickets for Tuesday’s schedule through all channels.

It looks like this might finally be the real end of the road for Kingfisher. Then again, we thought it was the end of the road many times before as well

We will be monitoring the situation carefully, ready to give you updates as soon as possible.

 

Air Costa Launches Website

Air Costa’s website went live just now.

For those of you who don’t know about Air Costa, it is a startup regional carrier in the south, with bases in Chennai and Vijayawada. It has been getting ready to launch for some time now.

The website looks great, although it is hard to judge functionality when most features aren’t enabled yet!

Air Costa is targeting a Q1 2013 launch with Embraer 170 aircraft. If you are interested in flying for Air Costa, you can apply here. If you are interested in a job, you can apply through Air Costa’s Careers page.

anotherThe Free Dictionary: Distinctly different from the first: took another route to town.

Jet Airways Moves Closer Yet to Star Alliance

Yesterday, airlineroute announced that from mid-November, Jet Airways will not be serving Chennai-Brussels anymore. It appears that this reduction is moving towards a hub in Munich instead, so that Jet can be integrated closely into Star Alliance.

The first sign of this was also yesterday, when Munich Airport posted a schedule for Jet Airways’ operation of Munich – Bangalore! This is the largest Indian destination which is still unserved from Munich by Lufthansa.

The tentative schedule is set to begin in mid-March, and is as follows:

Flight No. Departure Arrival
9W 154 BLR 04:05 MUC 08:35
9W 153 MUC 12:00 BLR 02:40

A 4AM departure isn’t so nice, but this flight connects perfectly with Lufthansa’s bank from Munich. More importantly, the flight will operate out of Lufthansa’s Terminal 2, presumably to facilitate convenient connections.

Jet Airways has been sending lots of mixed signals regarding alliances, but it looks like they’re moving closer to Star in earnest now.