Friday, March 11, 2016

Focus on CAT-II, IIA & III routes in Vistara's initial summer schedule

by Soumen Mukherjee

On 8 March 2016, Vistara has revealed its initial summer 2016 schedule which proposes to take the number weekly flights to almost 400 from the current level of 317, a 26% rise effective from 27 March 2016; The schedule also adds 3 new destinations namely, Jammu, Kochi and Srinagar in the network. The airline launches new destinations like Jammu and Srinagar, located north of Delhi for the first time in its 15 months of operational history which is going to help it implementing the hub-spoke model better out of its Delhi Airport hub.
As I mentioned, its only the initial schedule to be operated in April-May 2016 by its current fleet of 9 Airbus A320-200 aircraft and the airline going to add new destinations and additional frequencies on existing routes during the course of the summer schedule. By the end of the summer season in October 2016, the airline plans to almost double its weekly flights from now as Vistara is scheduled to receive 4 more new Airbus A320-200 aircraft, the first one is expected in May then the second in June, third in September and the fourth in October 2016;

As I indicated in my earlier blog that Vistara is going to increase its average aircraft utilization as it proposes operating 26% more weekly flights using the current fleet of 9 aircraft. Now it will be interesting to see whether it can maintain its above 90% on-time performance record as it increases the aircraft utilization in summer. As expected, Vistara focused heavily on the CAT-II and CAT-IIA routes in this rounds of announcement of new route and new frequency. According to the Route Dispersal Guideline (RDG), all airlines are bound to fly at least 10% capacity on CAT-II, 1% capacity on CAT-IIA and 50% capacity on CAT-III routes compared to what they fly on CAT-I routes. Vistara currently flies on Delhi-Guwahati-Bagdogra-Delhi sector to comply with RDG, but it has already reached the threshold of both its CAT-II and CAT-IIA capacity in January 2016;
Therefore it was obvious for it to add new capacity on CAT-II and CAT-IIA routes in order add new capacity on CAT-I routes.  Vistara chose Delhi-Srinagar-Jammu-Srinagar-Delhi sector as its new CAT-II and CAT-IIA routes while added additional CAT-I capacity on Delhi-Bengaluru sector and CAT-III capacity on Mumbai-Kochi sector.

Last year Singapore Airlines had recommended its fliers to take a land transfer from Delhi to Srinagar to enjoy the famous Tulip festival, celebrated every year in Srinagar during April. This summer Vistara, the Tata-SIA joint venture, to fly there 16 times a week from its Delhi hub. The maximum frequency (one-way) the airline is scheduled to operate on a route after the Delhi-Mumbai sector. Histrionics apart, the launch of Delhi-Srinagar flight specially in the summer has immense significance in Vistara's own network, so far it serves 7 out of top 10 domestic routes from Delhi Airport and the Delhi-Srinagar route becomes the 8th one, leaving only Kolkata and Chennai unserved (both CAT-I route from Delhi). While Delhi is the busiest destination from Srinagar, it is also mostly featured among the top 10 busiest domestic destinations from Delhi.

The Delhi-Srinagar sector is already developed as it is featured among the top 10 busiest domestic routes from Delhi. Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo, GoAir and SpiceJet together serve 12* daily flights on the 640 km route, although the share of full-service carrier is significantly small. If we look at the seasonal variation of traffic on both Delhi-Srinagar and Srinagar-Delhi routes, summer is of course the peak tourist season while it experiences around 35% drop in the monthly passengers in the winter months. Vistara seems to be bullish on the prospect of Delhi-Srinagar route launch as it is deploying whopping 16 weekly flights (one way) on the route, unmatched in its network except Delhi-Mumbai. The evening Srinagar-Delhi flight UK 977 is extended up to Mumbai with Delhi-Mumbai flight departing from Delhi at 19:10 with same flight number but the connection is available only one way at present. The airline has signaled that it will consider providing its afternoon Delhi-Srinagar-Delhi flights with both way extension to Mumbai.

Vistara's summer 2016 schedule of Delhi-Srinagar sector:

Delhi-Jammu (via Srinagar)
Srinagar-Jammu sector is the busiest CAT-IIA route in India with 35,000 monthly passengers on an average on the sector. Unlike its triangular service on the Delhi-Guwahati-Bagdogra-Delhi sector, Vistara has opted for Delhi-Srinagar-Jammu-Srinagar-Delhi routing. This is of particular significance as many airlines operate on the Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar route at present while Vistara's to operate on the Delhi-Srinagar-Jammu route. The Srinagar-Jammu route is much developed compared to the Guwahati-Bagdogra CAT-IIA route where the airline currently operates. Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir together operates 7* daily flights on the 145 km route. Vistara to operate daily direct flight on Delhi-Jammu route via Srinagar by extending its morning Delhi-Srinagar flight UK 799 and UK 790 in the return.

Vistara's summer 2016 schedule of Srinagar-Jammu sector:

Delhi-Kochi (via Mumbai)
After focusing on CAT-II and CAT-IIA routes as per RDG, Vistara launches direct flight on Delhi-Kochi sector via Mumbai which is a CAT-III route. The Delhi-Mumbai UK 995 and Mumbai-Delhi UK 996 legs of the flights already exist in the current schedule, they are being re-scheduled a bit in order to better match with the Mumbai-Kochi-Mumbai flights on both way. While the lay-over time in Mumbai is 45 minutes both way, Vistara has fixed an ambitious 30 minutes turn-around plan in Kochi which it is expected to make up as the Mumbai-Kochi flight time of 130 minutes is over-estimated one. But in Vistara's website booking engine, the most convenient one-stop option between Delhi and Kochi (UK 995) not showing up and the same problem still exist on Kochi-Delhi (UK 996) and even on Srinagar-Mumbai (UK 977) sector, when inquired about this the airline said the new schedule to take some time to properly load. The Mumbai-Kochi-Mumbai sector is already a developed one although it comes under CAT-III in the route dispersal guidelines (RDG) and Mumbai-Trivandrum comes under CAT-I despite having less traffic. In fact Mumbai is the busiest domestic destination from Kochi with around 40,000 one-way monthly passengers on an average. Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo, Spicejet and GoAir together operate 12* daily flights on the 1,065 km route.

Ar present, Goa and Bengaluru are the two stations where Vistara operates from both Mumbai and Delhi, and it is expected that the airline will consider operating non-stop flight on the Delhi-Kochi sector (CAT-III) as it receives more aircraft in the coming days. The Delhi-Kochi sector is right now under-developed, only 5 daily flights operate each way and there is a good opportunity for Vistara to tap that potential in the near future. 

Vistara's summer 2016 schedule of Mumbai-Kochi sector:

Finally, Vistara has added additional capacity on a CAT-I route and that too on the Delhi-Bengaluru sector, the second busiest sector in India. Form June 2015, when the airline had first ever entered Bengaluru market, there is a huge demand and request for it to add same day return flight on the important route as it is so far operating a single daily flight on either way. In the summer schedule, it will launch a morning Delhi-Bengaluru flight UK 868 and an evening Delhi-Bengaluru flight UK 813 completing its existing flights. At the same time, Vistara going to offer Bengaluru-Guwahati direct flight UK 868 via Delhi and Bagdogra-Bengaluru direct flight UK 813 via Delhi (see Delhi-Guwahati-Bagdogra section). But few questions remained unanswered, for example the late night Mumbai-Bengaluru flight UK 850 will be operating on Saturday night but the morning Bengaluru-Delhi flight UK 868 will not be operating on Sunday morning, so what will happen to that aircraft on Sunday? 
Vistara's summer 2016 schedule of Delhi-Bengaluru sector:

On the other hand, Vistara is re-scheduling its existing flights on CAT-II and CAT-IIA routes. The Delhi-Guwahati-Bagdogra-Delhi flight timings being changed to better match with morning Bengaluru-Delhi flight and evening Delhi-Bengaluru flight on either direction. It will offer direct flights UK 868 on BLR-DEL-GAU-IXB and UK 813 on IXB-DEL-BLR routes.
But in order to offer direct flight from Bengaluru to Guwahati via Delhi and from Bagdogra to Bengaluru via Delhi, a new challenge arises as in the new schedule the flight numbers of Guwahati-Bagdogra and Bagdogra-Delhi are different. Therefore officially no direct flight will be operating from Guwahati to Delhi via Bagdogra (different flight no. unlike now) although the same aircraft will continue to fly from Guwahati to Delhi with 35 minutes stop-over at Bagdogra. This could have been avoided if the first flight number UK 868 terminated at Guwahati and the next flight number UK 813 operating on GAU-IXB-DEL-BLR sectors but in that case Vistara would have missed direct flight connection to Bagdogra from its Delhi hub.

Vistara's summer 2016 schedule of Delhi-Guwahati-Bagdogra-Delhi sector:

Fleet utilization:
As Vistara proposes to operate 26% more flights with the current fleet of 9 aircraft, it is bound to increase the average aircraft utilization which is an area the airline not showing a great performance in the recent times. It is going to operate close to 400 weekly flights in the initial summer months which roughly leads to more than 6 flights a day per aircraft on an average. As I managed to find out one of the aircraft pattern to be operated in the summer schedule, it is showing huge improvement in block time compared to some of the patterns operating now. For example, the BLR-DEL-GAU-IXB-DEL-BLR-DEL pattern going to clock a block time of 13 hr 50 min which is almost 2 hr more than the current best. In fact some of its present aircraft patterns involve just 4 flights day DEL-BBI-DEL-BBI-DEL and clocking just 8 hr 45 min block time.   
Pattern 1:
Block time: 13 hr 50 min

Tail note:
As per the current fleet expansion plan, Vistara going to receive all its 13 Airbus A320ceo by 2016, meaning 4 more A320ceo aircraft in the coming months as mentioned above. Then the rest 7 Airbus A320neo is scheduled to come in 2 phases, 4 in 2017 and 3 in 2018, taking the fleet size to 20 by the end of 2018; All 20 aircraft is being leased from Singapore based aircraft lessor BOC Aviation. But as the Govt. of India is coming out with a proposal amending the present 5/20 rule which restricts new airlines from flying abroad,  Vistara likely to go beyond its 20 narrow-body aircraft target by 2018; As the proposed rule ask for airlines to operate 20 'dedicated aircraft' on the domestic sector before flying on international routes, new airlines including Vistara will surely go for rapid fleet expansion in order to satisfy the 'proposed' new norms which removes the age restriction but maintains the 20 aircraft fleet rule intact. However the new rule is vague in its articulation of 'dedicated aircraft' for domestic operations. But Vistara going to face tough challenge to arrange new narrow-body aircraft (it is most likely to use new aircraft), within short period as IndiGo and GoAir together is eating up a lion part of A320neo production line while Air India too had secured lease agreement of 14 A320neo with a Kuwaiti leasing firm, considering the Indian context alone the Airbus production lines for narrow-body aircraft going to remain busy for now. Still, SIA being its parent, Vistara is expected to have some leverage over others and it will be interesting to see how its fleet expansion program proceeds from here, whether it sticks to the original plan or go for more rapid expansion.
* Number of flights by other airlines not necessarily same on either way of the sectors mentioned above.

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