Mumbai: What will airlines do with idle planes when they cut the number of flights to tide over rising fuel prices?
Jet Airways India Ltd, the country’s largest private airline, plans to use the idle time to complete repainting some of its planes as it rebrands its low-fare subsidiary JetLite India Ltd.
Other airlines are exploring options to lease their planes to rival carriers or use them as spares, while some plan to use the downtime for overhauls.
“We cannot keep on flying in this high-cost environment,” said Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, chief executive of Jet Airways. “We will certainly look at rationalising the routes. If it results in planes left unused, we will use them for painting or other related works.”
As aviation fuel soars to record levels, the country’s airlines are considering cost-saving measures such as cutting the number of flights on select routes or using smaller aircraft, in effect grounding some of their planes.
Aviation experts note the turn in industry logic. They had earlier said it would be ideal to keep planes flying rather than on the ground to make profits, but this has now reversed.
Jet Airways, for instance, has decided to replace its Airbus A330 planes on routes such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur with the smaller Boeing B737.
The A330, which can carry 250-290 passengers, is mostly used on long-haul routes while the B737, with about 150 seats, is used for short-haul, or domestic, routes.
The Mumbai-based carrier is also replacing its 400-seater Boeing B777 on the India-US route with the A330.
“Certainly, this will result in some airplanes sitting idle on the ground. We are exploring several options for redeploying these planes,” said Prock-Schauer.
Jet Airways will use the idle time to rebrand and refurbish some of the planes used by its low-fare subsidiary JetLite.
“The planes operated by JetLite don’t look good. We will use this time to get some good looks,” said a JetLite executive, who asked not to be named.
“Apart from maintenance and engineering functions, we are exploring leasing out these planes for a short period,” said Hitesh Patel, executive vice-president of Kingfisher Airlines Ltd. “This will fetch some revenue for the airline at such troubled times.”
Vijay Mallya, chairman of Kingfisher Airlines, and recently named head of lobbying body Federation of Indian Airlines, had said airlines would be left with no option but to cut services and frequencies if the government does not provide tax relief for jet fuel.
Kingfisher Airlines’ low-fare subsidiary Deccan Aviation Ltd, which runs Simplifly Deccan, also plans to cut the number of flights and defer aircraft deliveries.
Deccan Aviation’s officiating chief executive officer and chief financial officer Ramki Sundaram has hinted that the airline may cut flights on loss-making routes.
Not all see a solution in these options.
“The lease rental rates of grounded planes will go down, especially for old aircraft. And you cannot go on painting a plane,” said a former senior executive with a domestic low-fare carrier. “The alternative option is to put the aircraft on the ground and pay rentals (if the plane had been leased).”
“The world is changing in aviation with oil prices above $130 (Rs5,577) a barrel. There will be hundreds of planes across the world grounded,” said the executive, who didn’t want to be named as he is currently employed with another foreign airline.
Gurgaon-based low fare carrier SpiceJet Ltd has clearly indicated it would be cautious in inducting new capacity, though it would take aircraft delivery according to predetermined schedule.
“We will be using idle planes as spares and complete maintenance or engineering works of some planes, if needed. We have grown to a size where we can afford to have spare planes,” said a senior SpiceJet executive, who did not want to be identified.