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After a turbulent 2020, regional airlines to soar once again

Forum Gandhi Mumbai | Updated on January 10, 2021 Published on January 10, 2021

But they also face challenges such as lack of planning, mismanagementof airline fleet and unviable routes

Regional airlines are gearing up to resume full operations in 2021. While StarAir, Alliance and TruJet have started flying again, Air Heritage and ZoomAir are making plans to restart services. All these airlines have had to take a hit after services were disrupted due to the pandemic.

Simran Singh Tiwana, CEO, Star Air, said: “Of course, Covid made a dent in the balance sheets of all airlines. But our dent was smaller because most of our routes are regional and the scale is smaller. We have an occupancy of 75 per cent, our occupancy prior to Covid was 85 per cent. Our PLF was easier to fill because of the smaller aircraft size.”

Recently, FSTC Group launched India’s newest regional airline called FlyBig. It has already operated flights between Delhi and Shillong, and plans to operate more in the near future. “We had a plan to induct five aircraft, however, we had a slight delay in getting permissions. We will induct three aircraft this fiscal. All our aircraft will be leased aircraft. For FY22, we would want to establish ourselves at the UDAN-4 leader – we have been awarded approximately 15 routes,” Sanjay Mandavia, Founder of FlyBig, told BusinessLine.

Air Heritage, ZoomAir

Meanwhile, two out of five other regional airlines, Air Heritage and ZoomAir, plan to resume operations by January-end. Speaking to BusinessLine, Rohit Mathur, Director of Heritage Aviation, said that prior to the pandemic, his pilots had gone abroad for training but they did not join back. However, an industry insider said that the airline’s operations had to be stalled because of mismanagement of the route map. Mathur did not comment on the same; instead, he said that finding a pilot for smaller aircraft is troublesome. “We plan to induct new aircraft and restart 19 seater LA-410 for a long-term lease contract, and we will restart by January-end or February first week.”

Similar is the story of ZoomAir. According to Koustav Dhar, CEO of ZoomAir, its AOC was suspended by the DGCA in February last year after it failed to maintain a five-aircraft fleet, and faced issues with manpower. The airline was operating till March till the pandemic hit. Meanwhile, the airline had maintained the five-aircraft fleet; however, it did not have sufficient pilots. This went on till August last year.

“In September, we applied for AOC from the DGCA, and we have five aircraft on SLB model, and we have pilots and crew in flesh in India who have been recruited from Spain and France.”

On the other hand, StarAir, Alliance and TruJet have been able to resume operations post-Covid unlock in May and have been able to flourish since.

Both these airlines optimised their network and redeployed aircraft to fruitful routes.

Star Air had 16 flights pre-Covid, and now it has 22 flights on a monthly basis. “We have added three destinations to Ajmer, we have also connected 4-5 other destinations,” said Tiwana.

Whereas for TruJet, pre-Covid, it had seven aircraft and operated on 64 routes. TruJet has resumed operations with four aircraft and operated on at least 50 per cent of its routes; however, according to LSN Murthy, CEO of TruJet, the PLF is not looking good so far for the airline. The airline plans to make a gradual addition. “We will induct two more aircraft this month and one more in February. We had to infuse some funds; however, we do not wish to disclose that amount. From January onwards, we will start paying full salaries to our employees, too,” he said.

 

Infusion of funds

StarAir, too, had to infuse funds to stay afloat, but has already started paying full salaries to its employees. “We were three aircraft pre-Covid, we added one in November, and now we plan to add one more in January,” said Tiwana.

Satyendra Pandey, Managing Partnerat advisory firm AT-TV, who tracks regional airlines, said that the future for regional airlines in India remains bleak because of multiple reasons. “Lack of planning, talent, mismanagement of fleet, and unviable routes are a huge problem for regional airlines. Though UDAN is a good boost for these airlines, but the UDAN cap, too, wouldn’t last for long,” he said.

 

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Published on January 10, 2021
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