Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fiasco at induction - what went wrong when the Q400s landed ?

A lot is being written and discussed about Spicejet and its strategy for dual fleet. While a parallel is being drawn with successful western carriers to push forward the argument of a single fleet, the successful western carriers – RyanAir, EasyJet or Southwest operate in an environment which has umpteen airports with supporting infrastructure for the B737 or A320 family unlike India where there would only be a handful of airports and most of which have some or the other constraint.

Personally, I believe the differentiator for Spicejet always was to have a dual fleet and move from a pure play LCC to a value based LCC which will help passengers reach airports which are not covered by market leader IndiGo and is cheaper than Full Service carrier Jet Airways.
The question that needs to be asked is – Was Q400 right for Indian conditions or the proven ATR72 would have been a better bet? Going by the teething troubles for the Q400 and the engineering issues which the airline is believed to have faced – yes the proven ATR72 would have been better.

If the promise to do one more flight a day than the ATR72 cannot be met because the operator needs a break in schedule in the middle of the day for engineering reasons, the spending on Q400 is not justified.

Today I am going to take a look at what went wrong at the time of induction of the Q400s and how the legacy cost which the current management has to handle is in addition to the legacy deals and aircraft like the Q400.

This only highlights how important fleet selection is, in addition to planning the network and pricing your tickets.

What exactly went wrong with the Q400?
A realization had dawned upon Spicejet after the first set of aircraft were to arrive in India that at all places where ATR-72s operate, a Q400 may not operate? And why is that so?
In April 2012, I had written a piece on the induction of Q400s by Spicejet on this blog.

What had I not mentioned in this article was the lack of planning while inducting the Q400s. When the schedule was initially filed, regulatory authorities rejected the filing for quite a few airports and expressed inability to support the Q400 operations.

The answer lay in the Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (ARFF) category. At a length of 32.84m and a fuselage diameter of 2.89m, Q400 required Category VI firefighting equipment at airport as compared to category V of ATR 72 with a length of 27.2m and 2.57m fuselage diameter.

The difference is huge, since Category I – V required one vehicle for ARFF and Category VI & VII require 2 vehicles. This meant that while Q400 could operate to airports like Jaipur, Indore, Bhopal, Lucknow and many others which see regular narrow body operations, it could not operate to Dharamshala, Allahabad, Gorakhpur and many others which saw ATR 72 operations and were potential stations for the Q400. The story was same in the south, with Rajamundry, Vijaywada having similar problems.

So the Q400s started with operations to town and cities which saw narrow body operations by other carriers and the planned shock and awe of induction and expansion had to wait.
This certainly would have hit the revenues since typically the revenue on competitive routes is lesser at unit basis than those to monopoly or duopoly routes where the airline intended to fly. Besides, the whole marketing idea of taking on the ATR by a faster Q400 did not take place since the Q400 started competing with the B737s or A320s which are preferred by passengers over the turboprops.

Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to fly the Q400 ever and thus I will not comment on how the aircraft fares with the ATR from the user experience perspective but will only hope that the airline gets a good deal to continue using the Q400s and develop a unique model between the Full Service carriers and the market leader!

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