Newsletter #7

DespAIR India

Railways and aviation are as different as chalk and cheese. Why are we saying this now?

Remember the tall claim by Air India boss Ashwani Lohani, a former Railways bureaucrat, that he would turn around Air India within a year. Still, Lohani is something of a turnaround expert.

But nearly two years have passed since Lohani took charge and we haven’t seen any radical change in the way the government owned airline is run.  Even the airline’s claim that it reported an operating profit in 2015-16 was bogus. One shudders to imagine the mess if not for the benign oil prices.

Now Lohani says the mountain of debt that the airline has accumulated is “unsurmountable”. The correct word is insurmountable, but never mind.

Lohani’s admission in a Facebook post the other day is as good as (or bad depending on if you truly believed his turnaround credentials) he having thrown in the towel.

He says the decision to merge Air India with Indian Airlines and the decisions of the previous government caused the mess. But all this is old hat.

What one wants to know is how did Lohani conclude that there is no hope for the airline (which to be fair few will disagree with). Or has his statement anything to do with the buzz swirling around privatising the airline?

In any case, Air India services continue to suck. As we said earlier, the airline has benefitted from the laptop ban on US-bound flights from the Middle East.

But that opportunity will be lost if it doesn’t quickly buck up, at least in the US-bound flights. This review of a flight to New York reveals filthy bathrooms, dirty seats and patchy inflight entertainment systems.

Sheikhen & Rattled

Qatar Airways’ ambition to establish an airline in India will have to wait. This report says that Qatar is likely to put its plan on hold until there is “further clarity from the Indian government on FDI norms”.

Indian laws prohibit full ownership by foreign airlines. It seems that Qatar may have made the big announcement without seeking clarity from Indian authorities. Or the plan may have been nipped in the bud due to the lobbying pressure by Indian airlines. We told you about both situations: CEO Akbar Al Baker’s habit of making grand statements without substance and the lobbying prowess of Indian airlines.

These Guys, We Tell You  

DGCA plans to double the notice period for pilots leaving an airline. It is a draft, but the regulator wants the notice period of commanders to be set at a year.

This is unheard of in any industry. The justification is that sudden exits lead to cancellation of flights and passenger discomfort.

But forget six months, isn’t three months sufficient for airlines to find replacements?

One could argue that there is a pilot shortage in India. But that has been a perennial problem, which should be addressed by investing in talent and not by such stop-gap, labour unfriendly measures.

Are Your Pilots Happy? 

While we are on the topic of pilots, it will be worth looking at how Spirit is feeling the weight of pilot unrest. The US airline is famous for its ultra-low cost business model, which gives it room to set ultra cheap fares.

But that successful model has come under strain due to a public dispute with its nearly 1,600 pilots. The pilots wants the same salaries as bigger airlines such as American, Delta and United. Spirit says raises will disrupt its low-cost model.

It will be interesting for Indian LCCs to see how this episode plays out, although in their case, they pay huge salaries to expat pilots.

It's Those %#*% Birds Again  

A symposium earlier this week by ICAO in Montreal threw up some interesting statistics about bird strikes and  also suggested solutions.

  • 89% occurred on or near the aerodrome.

  • 28% occurred during the take-off run or climb

  • 61% occurred during the approach or landing roll

  • 87% occurred during the day

  • 13% occurred at night

Avian radars can help predict strikes, according to Steve Osmek, Manager, Airport Biologist (Seattle-Tacoma Airport). “That’s where the avian radar & FOD Sensors come into play. The radar can help identify wildlife hot spots, allowing aircrafts to slow down or take appropriate measures before a strike occurs.”

Airbus Cars

Several companies such as Uber, Google and Tesla are trying to build flying cars but the company that actually built planes might beat them all.

Like others, the company is combining lightweight materials, cheaper and better batteries, and improved avionics software to make this happen. But Airbus is also looking at a new way.

Airbus is dreaming up a vehicle that looks desirable and has accessible interiors. The design is complete and now the hard part -- engineering -- begins. A demonstration flight of a full-scale prototype is due by the end of the year.

RIP, Shukriya Khanum

Shukriya Khanum, who was the first Pakistani woman to obtain a commercial pilot's licence, has died of cancer in Lahore. She was 82.

Khanum’s life was epochal not just because she bagged a licence as early as 1959 but also because she had to battle plenty of odds to reach the milsetone. Pakistan International Airlines then did not permit female pilots to fly commercial planes. She therefore had to be content with the job of flight instructor at PIA's training centre.

Kahanun’s is such a fascinating story. And inspiring.

We Hate This Guy!

Alex Macheras tests out planes before they reach clients. So he jetsets around the world, flies first class and sips champagne. And he is just 20.  

He is an aviation analyst who tests seats and tastes in-flight food. Macheras says he has been interested in planes “as long as he can remember.”

We are too. Anybody listening?

Weekly Updates

GST: Economy tickets to get cheaper from July 1. 

SpiceJet introduces e-boarding facility in Bengaluru.

Jet Airways to phase out ATRs.

Air traffic increases 15% in April.

Mumbai becomes busiest single-runway airport.