Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Airlines add planes to reach India’s under-served towns

Expansion will be led by start-ups such as Turbo Megha and Air Pegasus, besides Air India and Air Costa

New Delhi: Airlines in India are adding aircraft to reach the country’s under-served towns, even as doubts remain over the viability of stand-alone regional carriers.

The expansion will be led by start-ups such as Hyderabad-based Turbo Megha and Bengaluru-based Air Pegasus, besides Air India and Air Costa.

Turbo Megha has sought permission to import two ATR aircraft after which it will get its air operator’s permit, said a government official, who did not want to be named. The airline and five others were cleared for take-off in July. Turbo Megha currently operates charter flights from Hyderabad. A second government official confirmed the airline will use ATRs.

An email and calls made to the airline were unanswered.

Kingfisher Airlines, which had acquired Air Deccan with a vast regional network, was grounded in 2012, leaving many small cities without flights.

As new aircraft arrive, regional airline Air Costa will connect many regional routes in which it sees potential. “Air Costa’s strategy is to connect upcoming and under-served tier-II cities to existing tier-I cities. Most of the city pairs that we fly fall under this category and our aircraft aptly fit to our routes," said the airline’s chief financial officer Vivek Choudhary. Air Costa flies Embraer jets.

The Air Pegasus website said the airline has acquired ATRs and will launch flights soon.

There are 46 regional planes, 52 long-haul planes and 296 narrow-body planes out of 391 commercial aircraft in India, according to aviation consultant Capa. They have also ordered 750 planes, of which 50 are regional jets, 28 long-haul jets and 622 narrow body. Capa said Indian airlines are expected to add as many as 16 regional aircraft by the end of the next fiscal year.

Aircraft makers are waiting to tap the boom.

“There is potential for growth and there is interest from airlines," Dinesh Keskar, Boeing commercial airplanes’ vice-president for sales said over the phone. Boeing is in talks with some of the new upcoming airline start-ups to sell its planes, Keskar said. However, Keskar is not too convinced about the regional push. “It’s still hard to compete with Indian Railways which is very efficient, becoming better and is much cheaper. Will there be room? Yes. But only as much. It will develop over time as infrastructure improves."

“Plans of regional start-up airlines remain uncertain," said Kapil Kaul, South Asia chief executive officer of Capa. “Stand-alone regional airline viability remains challenging unless the funding and operations scale is very aggressive and promoters have a long-term approach."

State-owned Air India recently added Pantnagar in Uttarakhand to its destinations with a regional jet. The airline will add eight brand new ATR 72-600 turboprop aircraft to its fleet in the next few months.

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