It has not been a good year for the Indian aviation industry with rising fuel prices and the rupee crashing in the market leading to huge losses for airliners. Despite the challenging conditions, Air India Express is flying high. The Kochi-based low-cost airlines has recorded Rs 262 crore profit for 2017-18.

The airlines, which operates predominantly in the Kerala-Gulf region, has a lot going for Malayalee customers as well. It will operate the inaugural flight from Kannur airport, which is all set to open on December 9. Online tickets for the Kannur-Abu-Dhabi flight was sold out within an hour.

K Shyam Sundar, CEO of Air India Express, speaks to about its operations from Kannur, problems faced by the industry and its success secret.

Operations from Kannur airport

In the beginning, flights will be from Kannur to Abu-Dhabi, Sharjah, Doha and Riyadh. We expect to grow in Kannur and add more flights and destinations as and when our capacity improves. I expect that the flights from Kannur will do very well.

Initially, we will have four flights every week to Sharjah and Doha in the morning and three flights every week to Abu-Dhabi and Riyadh in the evening. As soon as we get another aircraft, which is undergoing some major maintenance at the moment, the Sharjah flights will be made regular and Muscat flights will be introduced.

Overwhelming response from Kannur

It is extremely encouraging to have tickets sold out within an hour after the online booking started. Frankly, we have never sold our tickets so fast. It speaks volumes about the demand for such flights. Air India Express is grateful to the people for the overwhelming response. We will live up to their expectations.

We are also very happy to have responded to the market demand. I think it will be mutually beneficial for all the stakeholders, including the airport and passengers. We believe that it will have a positive impact on hotels and catering services among others. It’s a good start and we thank everyone who have been instrumental in making Kannur airport a reality.

Future plans

Kerala-Gulf services have been the mainstay of Air India Express all these years. In fact, our first flight was from Kochi to Abu-Dhabi. The focus will remain on Gulf flights. But we are planning to broaden the network by offering Gulf flights from more cities in India and increasing both the number of flights and destinations from cities such as Lucknow, Amritsar, Varanasi, Jaipur and others from where we already operate.

Besides, we are looking at South-East Asia; especially markets which have a lot of outbound tourism. Singapore is a well-established market for us. Bangkok is another very potential destination. The idea is to make air travelling affordable for the middle class Indian customers so that they can take a flight and enjoy a holiday abroad. Our philosophy is to operate at the most affordable air fares.

Impact of fuel price hike

Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) price hike has affected the global industry. The Indian carriers suffer more as they pay higher rate of taxes for ATF. Fortunately, we operate predominantly on international sectors. It saves us from taxes that must be paid for operating domestic flights. However, the basic rate of ATF has gone up significantly and it has directly impacted the cost of operations.

Success secret

Only this year Indian carriers reported losses and that was due to the phenomenal increase in ATF prices. But thanks to higher efficiency, Air India Express has been keeping its head above the water, even during the current year. We fly our aircrafts for 13.30 to 14 hours a day, which is very good by international standards. This means that we get more of the money’s worth from an aircraft in the fleet.

We make sure that our resources are well utilised within the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (GCDA) regulations. Our operation patterns make the most out of cockpit and cabin crew. We are much more efficient and have a very good team that takes care of our revenue.

Moreover, we make smart use of our aircrafts. During peak season, we operate most of our flights to the gulf regions. During off season, these flights are removed from service and the aircraft will be taken for maintenance. It’s a fine balance between making all your aircrafts available when the demand is high and taking care of them properly without affecting services.