Air India Express, the Low Cost Carrier operating under the TATA Group umbrella has confirmed its plans to continue with the mixed fleet model. Normally, in India, airlines prioritize fuel efficiency and opt to operate modern aircraft with new engines. Despite the fact that the Airbus A320ceos of Air India Express are more than 10 years old, the airline has no intentions to dump them.
Air India Express Mixed Fleet to Continue
Air India Express Chief Executive Officer, Aloke Singh in an interaction with Livemint confirmed the airline’s plan to continue with a mixed fleet. The airline will continue to operate with both Airbus A320 as well as Boeing 737. Air India Express since inception has operated a fleet of Boeing 737-800NGs. With the merger of AirAsia India into Air India Express, the airline will receive the Airbus A320s, earlier operated by AirAsia.
Globally, Low-Cost Carriers with a mixed fleet are rare to find. In India, IndiGo has stuck to a single fleet model since its inception.
However, Air India Express Chief believes that with a large scale of growth, the benefits of having a single aircraft type vanishes and results in negative returns. He admitted the challenges in operating a mixed fleet but from the whole group’s perspective, it is beneficial as aircraft can be interchangeable later on.
In November month, TATA Group announced the new branding of Air India Express. Along with this, the company also liquidated the AirAsia India brand. Now, it is called AIX Connect. As of now, the total fleet size of both airlines compasses 64 aircraft with 28 Airbus A320S and 36 Boeing 737s.
TATA Group is currently in the process of receiving approvals from mandated authorities to merge both AIX Connect and Air India Express. Both airlines are expected to be fully merged by April 2024. Right now, both are operating on separate Air Operator Certificate (AOC/AOP). Post-merger, the IATA Code of AirAsia India ‘I5’ will vanish from the Indian skies.
Rapid Fleet Expansion
Air India Express is receiving deliveries of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at a very rapid pace. According to CEO Aloke Singh, it is taking an aircraft within every nine days.
The airline got delivery of six B737 MAX in December month. It has plans to induct 40 more aircraft in the upcoming year. Within the next five years, it is planning to have a fleet of around 180 aircraft. During this period, some of the aircraft will be returned to their respective lessors.
At the recently concluded Wings India 2024, the airline showcased its aircraft with a new tail art – Kalamkari design.
Doubling The Market Share
The rapid fleet addition has aided the network expansion plans of Air India Express. Now, the airline is aiming to double its market share on two different fronts. On the domestic front, it has a market share of 7-8 percent, which is aimed to be 15-16% in the next five years.
In the short-haul international market, the airline is targeting a market share of 20 percent by 2028. Currently, this lies at 11 percent. The short-haul market from India includes flights to countries like UAE, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc.
Air India Express aims to become an airline of choice for passengers from secondary or tertiary cities. To aid this growth, it may consider launching a loyalty program. This is expected to be a basic program with potential links to Air India Frequent Flyer Programme Flying Returns. Previously, reports suggested that Air India will soon be added to TATA Neu.
Price Sensitive Customers are the Target
Air India Express is looking to attract cost-sensitive passengers, specifically from the Tier-2 & 3 cities. The airline is looking at all categories of passengers, be it VFR, inbound or outbound tourists, leisure, corporate or business travelers.
Singh emphasized that the Indian market is surprisingly large. For instance, the airline connects Surat to all the major metro cities in India. Who would have thought this was possible?
Currently, the airline has deployed half capacity on domestic routes and the other half on international ones. By the end of 2024, the weight will be more towards the domestic side as the airline continues to add more flights on the domestic front. The latest addition was the launch of Ayodhya operations with 13 weekly flights to Delhi, Kolkata, and Bengaluru.
Air India Express is adjusting its network to enhance traffic flow into each other’s network. Exactly the same way how Air India Express feeds traffic to Air India on long-haul routes originating from Delhi & Mumbai. Those routes that require premium products will be served by Air India, while price-sensitive markets will see the deployment of Air India Express.