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.

IndiGo Firms Order of 300 Pratt & Whitney Engines

Pratt & Whitney announced today at the Farnborough Air Show that it has firmed its contract with IndiGo for 300 PW1100G-JM engines. These geared turbofan engines will power IndiGo’s 150 A320neos on order, which will begin arriving in the middle of this decade. IndiGo will be one of the first airlines to receive Airbus’ new narrowbody.

More Airlines Introduce ₹50 Charge For E-Ticket Printout

A few weeks ago, Jet Airways introduced a ₹50 charge for getting an e-ticket printout at the airport.

This, like any other devaluation, caused a lot of cribbing from frequent flyers. And while the arguments were weak, nobody can deny that picking up your e-ticket printout is very convenient. For some people, it’s the only option. As with any other rate increase, I expected this charge to stick if other carriers matched it, but be repealed if nobody else did. India is a unique market where the ancillary fees that work well in other parts of the world (baggage fees most notably) simply kill load factor. So, monitoring the public response was important to ensure that this fee would be accepted.

It appears that IndiGo and SpiceJet have watched that response and decided that this fee is safe to match. Effective today, e-ticket printouts at IndiGo and SpiceJet counters will carry a ₹50 charge.

I expect the other low cost carrier, GoAir, to match this quickly. However, I expect Air India and Kingfisher Airlines to hold out on this fee, to differentiate their products from the LCCs. Overall, this move by Jet just shows that they are turning into more of a high-cost, LCC-service carrier every day.

DGCA’s Financial Surveillance Report Full Of Controversy

Last Thursday, the DGCA (India’s aviation regulator) finalized their 2011 financial surveillance report. The findings of the report are making waves throughout the industry. The report focused on the financial state of airlines in India, finding that financial issues are endemic in the sector, and that this financial sickness is affecting safety standards.

The most controversial part of the report said: “A reasonable case exists for withdrawal of [Kingfisher Airlines] airline operator permit as their financial stress is likely to impinge on safety.” The report also had similar findings about Air India Express (AIX), a surprise considering that AIX was relatively profitable compared to the rest of Air India and was being hailed as a success story by many aviation analysts. I must admit that I belong to that category myself, considering AIX to be a great step for Air India.

Audits of Jet Airways, JetLite, SpiceJet, and GoAir also yielded poor results. The DGCA found “major financial distress issues” that could lead to safety issues. The reports also talks of “some rapid growth issues” about IndiGo Airlines. The audit of Air India is not yet finished.

 

Source: Kingfisher Airlines

When I look at that list, I’m not really shocked. The report seems to list every single Indian airline as under “financial distress.” It’s great that the DGCA is finally figuring this out. The Indian aviation market is structurally challenged. Despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Indian airlines are unable to make profits. This is due to high fuel prices, extremely high taxes, and poorly negotiated bilateral treaties, among other issues. It is excellent that the DGCA is actually investigating these issues before it becomes too late and safety standards crash.

What may seem really surprising is that the DGCA is considering taking the extreme step of revoking operating permits. However, after looking closely at the financial issues that Kingfisher is facing, it may not seem that drastic of a step at all. A post tomorrow will go into more detail about Kingfisher’s financial woes.

 

Source: Wikimedia

With regards to Air India Express, it is surprising how scathing the report is. 2 years ago, the airline was involved in the Mangalore air crash which claimed 158 lives. However, it wasn’t clear to me how poor the safety culture at the airline is until today when I did some more poking around during research. There is shortage of pilots, check airmen, instructors, examiners and cabin crew… The airline is not able to operate its entire fleet due to shortage of pilots. Flight duty time limitation monitoring is carried out manually (unlike most airlines, including its parent Air India, which use computerized systems). Training of pilots is carried out on Jet Airways’ simulator as AI Express simulator remains unserviceable most of the time.”  This is a bad situation to be in for any airline.

Other airlines have been having similar issues as well. Jet Airways, JetLite, IndiGo, SpiceJet, IndiGo, Air India Regional, and GoAir all were found to be experiencing “financial difficulties” and “growing pains” in their operations. Crew shortages, poor quality training programs for pilots and cabin crew, and a lack of important software that can improve safety were found in some of these airlines, among other problems.

Any safety issues are always extremely worrying. However, despite all these concerns, the airlines of India are still some of the safest in the world. The fact that the regulator is being vigilant enough to ensure that these problems don’t become too severe is an extremely good sign.

Tune in tomorrow for a closer analysis of Kingfisher Airlines’ financial problems.

What A320 Sharklets Could Mean For An Airline Like IndiGo

Boeing 747-400 Winglet; Source: Boeing

Despite the advances in other areas, Airbus has lagged behind when it comes to large wingtip devices. The conventional and all too familiar wingtip fences that we see on the Airbus A300s, A310s, A320s and the A380s have done their job, but a scope for improvement always existed. Airbus A330s and the A340s broke from the norm by employing conventional winglets, similar to the ones seen on a Boeing 747-400.

On the 30th of November 2011, this wingtip complacency was relegated to a page in history. Airbus retrofitted the first ever A320 to be produced (MSN 001) with “Sharklets,” what Airbus calls their winglets. With this maiden flight, Airbus is ready to give to the world a much awaited confirmation and assurance of a winglet that will finally make its way to its production aircraft.

An Airbus A320 with Winglets, which Airbus calls "Sharklets"; Source: Airbus

First, let me give a brief explanation of how winglets work. Vortices form at the tips of wings as a result of the pressure difference that exists between the upper and lower surfaces of the wings. These vortices induce a drag which reduces the wing’s aerodynamic efficiency. Winglets are small , nearly vertical aerodynamic surfaces which are designed to be mounted at the tips of aircraft wings. A properly designed winglet impedes these vortices, shifting them instead further up to the tip of the winglet, resulting in much weaker vortices. As a result, the induced drag is significantly reduced, improving the lift to drag ratio of the new compound wing structure.

An increased lift to drag ratio implies lesser engine thrust requirement for a desired amount of lift, which directly relates to fuel savings. Like other winglets, these Sharklets bring with them a bundle of promises, the biggest of which is a 3.5% fuel saving over 3000NM-long flying sectors, and around 1% fuel saving over 500NM long sectors, in comparison to A320s flying with the conventional wingtip fences. These promises are fairly realistic. It cannot be underestimated how much a 3.5% fuel saving matters to airlines.

An example of an airline which will be affected by the new winglets is Indigo Airlines. Indigo Airlines is a low cost carrier based in India. Indigo operates only 1 fleet type, the A320, on a mix of medium haul international and short haul domestic routes. Almost a year back, Indigo made worldwide aviation headlines when it was one of the first airlines to agree to order 150 A320neo, which had been recently launched. It is continuing to expand rapidly in the Indian market.

The fuel savings caused by fitting Indigo’s A320s with sharklets are staggeringly large. Based on the flight schedule, Indigo can comfortably deploy one A320 on the Bangalore-Mumbai-Singapore-Mumbai-Bangalore pattern every day. Fuel cost at Bangalore and Mumbai have been approximated to be the same.

With this pattern, the same A320 operating with Sharklets can save about US$400,000per annum on fuel related costs.

According to John Leahy of Airbus, the price for the winglet will be similar to the forward fit, of around US$950,000. The retrofit kit may add to the cost, but the addition will not be substantial. Sharklets attached to an A320 flying the above pattern can pay back for itself in 2.5 years. Six A320s in Indigo’s fleet (INA-INF) are 5 years old. If Indigo plans to get rid of aircraft around 5 years old, a potential US$ 1M is saved by the airline, per aircraft.

But these are not the only savings. Either the revenue payload can be increased by 500kgs, or the range can be extended by 100NM at the original payload. The increased lift to drag ratio of the wing will result in higher available takeoff weights, notably from obstacle-limited runways, and where runway performance is not limiting, operators could profit from a reduction in average takeoff thrust (with consequent savings in engine maintenance costs by around 2%). The Sharklets lend the aircraft a better takeoff performance and rate-of-climb, higher optimum altitude, higher residual aircraft value, and greater safety margins in the event of an engine failure. All these mean money for the operator.

When you think about the fact that these cost savings will be available to every single operator of the A320 worldwide, thousands of aircraft will be reducing fuel burn and costs. This is a major improvement for airlines’ profit margins, the fares that customers pay, the environment with regards to emissions, and more. It will be interesting to watch for other improvements announced by aircraft manufacturers in the future.