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Fiasco at induction - what went wrong when the Q400s landed

 
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ameya
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2015 4:00 pm    Post subject: Fiasco at induction - what went wrong when the Q400s landed Reply with quote

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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sumantra
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2015 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sir, thanks for a lovely perspective on the Q4! The one more turnaround for the faster Q4 and the ARFF were an eye-opener for a layperson as Yours Truly.
- SG's model as such was quite novel, and at one time, 6E had contemplated the AT7s for the smaller cities. Or at least made some noises about it. Given that 6E is perhaps one of the best-managed LCCs around (equipment, controlled and yet opportunistic expansions, pricing, advertising etc), was the two-type model doomed to fail in India? The new management has made noises about taking the Q4 out of service soon.
- The AT7s seem to have worked much better in the world than the Q4s, save the niche North American market: is this due to the North American market's better MRO support for the Q4s? The labour cost would be higher.
- Fro a passenger perspective, I personally did not feel that much of a difference, but many of my friends say that the bigger cabin size of the Q4s `feels' bigger.
- How did SG finally get the Q4s to work out for them at Dharamsala, for instance? When an airport needs more fire-fighting vehicles for instance, how does the AAI charge an operator?
- Is there something to do with Bombardier's support itself, or is it lack of a large crowd with expertise on Bombardier's aircraft? The AI-R CR7 `masked bandit's have had constant issues, but that could be attributed to a very small fleet size, and hence, a spares inventory that is commensurate. However, 15 is not a small size by any means, for the Q4. Of course, an LCC's spares inventory is completely different from that of a LCC wing of a FSC.
Thanks once again for enlightening us about many technical issues with an in-depth analysis. A great read, as always!
Cheers, Sumantra.
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ameya
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do not know much from the engineering perspective but my friends in the industry say – turboprops are a little difficult to maintain than the jets. (While I kept thinking other way – “Saara engine to bahar hai, usko kya maintenance chahiye”
6E apparently is still entertaining people from Embraer and ATR to their office, so one does not know how things will span out. A lot will be dependent on how the new policy and route dispersal guideline revision takes place.

As I wrote on the blog, the two type model is a good way forward for India because of limited strips which can handle B737/A320. So I don’t think dual fleet was wrong. Was Q400 wrong is a question which I cannot answer – since I do not know the cost of acquisition and the operating margins / maintenance requirements

AAI does not charge the operator. Higher pax, weight also means higher revenue, but it takes time to arrange another fire engine and in due course of time all was arranged.

You are right about maintenance inventory – For Eg: airlines in India pool inventory and settle the bills once a quarter and with Q400 that would not have been possible. I do not know which is the closest support center for Bombardier. ATR has it in BKK as well as SIN so parts are easier to come by if needed

Thanks for the kind words as always !
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sumantra
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ameya wrote:
...my friends in the industry say – turboprops are a little difficult to maintain than the jets
This is an interesting observation, Sir: and among the `props, some AME friends say that the AT4/7s are rather robust planes from a Mx point of view, after the ol'dependable HS-748.
ameya wrote:
6E apparently is still entertaining people from Embraer and ATR to their office, so one does not know how things will span out. A lot will be dependent on how the new policy and route dispersal guideline revision takes place.
This is interesting news! Embraer, for ERJs: even more interesting, given higher cost margins vis-a-vis the AT7/4s...Hmmm...of course, the 6E team knows its onions better than most others, I guess.
ameya wrote:
I do not know which is the closest support center for Bombardier. ATR has it in BKK as well as SIN so parts are easier to come by if needed
The other (somewhat non-tangible)part is that all the three FSCs at that time (9W, IT, CD) had started off their small routes on AT7/4s, and there was a good amount of informal sharing of notes and experiences on the type. IIRC, loaning of spares from one company to another is also not completely uncommon, in critical situations.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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