SpiceJet set to add more low-fare flights to the UAE
SPICEJET, a leading low-fare airline, operates 250 daily flights to 41 destinations, including 34 in India and seven abroad.
Excerpts from an interview with Shilpa Bhatia, Senior Vice-President and Head of Sales and Distribution, SpiceJet:
Could you tell us about your Gulf operations - how many cities do you cover in the region and from how many points in India?
We currently are flying to two destinations - Dubai and Muscat. We fly into Dubai from six stations - Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Ahmedabad, Madurai and Pune - and from Ahmedabad into Muscat. Apart from this, we connect major points in India through our domestic network.
SpiceJet also plans to ramp up Gulf operations from Cochin International Airport as we add more aircraft. The airline plans to enhance its network from Kochi to the Gulf region with more flights. The Gulf has a lot of migrants from the state, and offering affordable and convenient travel options to them is our commitment.
What has been the response of customers to your Gulf operations?
The customer response has been very encouraging and we have seen steady growth in traffic on all our flights. We normally have two types of travellers on our flights: tourists and migrant workers.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen an influx of young travellers, basically students and families (nuclear families and groups) flying to the Middle East, which is also adding to our load factor. All this change in customers' profile is due to the low-cost fare that SpiceJet has been offering.
Are you planning to expand your flights to the Gulf and other international destinations?
We fly to seven international destinations currently - Dubai, Muscat, Kabul, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Colombo and Male.
We intend to start a few new destinations such as Doha, Istanbul, Cairo, Amman, Najaf and Erbil, but right now the priority will be to increase density to the existing network. We will be increasing our operations to the UAE with additional flights from various new markets from India.
What's your analysis of the India-Gulf market in terms of competition, seat capacity, bilateral rights and fares?
India's domestic airline industry is to record the second highest growth rate globally, and become the fourth largest domestic market in the world by 2016. India's domestic airline passenger numbers have reached 60 million a year.
Therefore, according to an expert report by CAPA - Centre for Aviation, India will be key to the expansion plans of three major Gulf airlines and they are expected to add 1,903 seats, which is a 14 per cent jump, to India in the second half of this year.
For the three airlines, India is the third largest growth market, behind the US and the UK.
So far on bilateral rights, the advantage is far more in favour of Gulf airlines. They consume the entire weekly seat allotment from India, while Indian carriers have failed to do so.
Any plans to operate services on the India-Europe, India-US or India-Far East sectors?
SpiceJet operates narrow body aircraft with a flight range of four hours maximum. Connecting the US or Europe does not fit into our low-cost operation model; therefore, we have no immediate plans to fly to the Far East or the US.
Tell us about your plans for the domestic sector and your new aircraft acquisition plans?
Currently, SpiceJet has 34 aircraft, comprising 18 Boeing 737s, two Airbus A319 (on wet lease) and 14 Bombardier Q400. We are seeing good demand and high load factors on our flights. This clearly indicates that people are accepting us. We are looking at induction of at least six to eight aircraft in our fleet this winter.
We intend to place orders for new aircraft during this financial year and it would be an outright purchase. However, we have not yet decided what type of aircraft we should go for. The decision will be based on the commercial interest of the airline.
There is a growing feeling that civil aviation reforms have got stuck and the government is not pushing aggressively with liberalisation. Do you agree with this point of view?
No, I don't agree with this viewpoint. The present NDA government is fairly serious about reforms, yet going cautious on many sensitive issues. This approach may probably create a perception that it is going slow. We have a forward-looking government and it is seriously looking at all issues.
Are you bullish about the Indian civil aviation sector, both domestic and international? Do you see some kind of consolidation happening?
After all the revolution in the skies and some 40 per cent growth year-on-year, the net position in 2015 is that only one per cent of Indians fly.
The potential of the domestic sector is too big to cater for all airlines in India. Therefore, the question of mergers and acquisitions does not arise. Existing airlines have far better potential growing independently.