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BLESSING IN DISGUISE

Why SpiceJet could benefit the most from Jet Airways’ troubles

By Niharika Sharma

India’s airlines have been making the most out of the vacuum created by the grounding of the country’s oldest private carrier ,Jet Airways, over a month ago.

Almost all of them have been vying for Jet’s prime slots, expanding their fleets, and adding new routes. It is budget carrier SpiceJet, though, that is poised to score most, according to a recent report by the investment management firm JM Financial.

The sector watchdog, the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), has allocated 130 airport slots from Jet’s portfolio to the airline, including 68 prime slots at Mumbai. This is higher than the number of such slots wrested by any airline, including market leader Indigo’s 120.

“Availability of additional slots will aid SpiceJet to optimally utilise its increased fleet size,” read the JM Financial report.

Yesterday (May 26), the no-frills carrier added its 100th aircraft to its fleet, becoming the fourth domestic airline to do so after IndiGo, Jet Airways, and state-owned Air India. “SpiceJet has added 23 planes and over a 100 new flights, most of them connecting the key metros of Mumbai and Delhi, in just over a month’s time,” it said in a statement.

Aiding the expansion has been the fact that SpiceJet and Jet Airways both operate Boeing aircraft. Since Jet’s grounding, 20 aircraft from its fleet has been handed over to SpiceJet by lessors.

“In the next two years, Indigo, SpiceJet, GoAir are expected to add 94, 42, and 25 aircraft (respectively), while Vistara and Air Asia may add 20 each,” JM Financial said in its note. Despite lagging IndiGo in fleet expansion, the firm expects SpiceJet to clock “disproportionate growth (in profitability)” relative to its current size.

“SpiceJet has an order of 155 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The planes are 20% more fuel efficient than the Boeing 737 NG aircraft (which dominates its current fleet), with 8% lower operating cost per seat,” the note explained.

Even though Boeing 737 MAXs are grounded over safety concerns, JM Financial expects the ban to be lifted in the second quarter of the current financial year.

Being a key player in the Indian government’s regional connectivity scheme UDAN has also benefited SpiceJet. Around 21% of its 1,10,220 flights operate on monopoly routes under the scheme.

SpiceJet plans to induct Bombardier Q400 aircraft will aid regional growth. “The new Q400 aircraft with 90 seats (versus 78 seats for older aircraft) will help size-up demand in regional routes,” according to JM Financial.

IndiGo perched on top

Even then, SpiceJet has a long way to go.

IndiGo is still the industry leader, flying half of all domestic passengers in April, according to DGCA data. SpiceJet’s and Air India’s market share stood at 13.1% and 13.9%, respectively.

“With 100 aircraft, SpiceJet has definitely scaled up. However, to become the market leader it still has a long way to go, especially in order to keep up with an airline like IndiGo,” said Ashish Nainan, an aviation analyst at rating agency CARE Ratings.

Experts believe the real picture of who benefits from Jet’s crisis will emerge only when both the airlines post their earnings for the January-March period next week.

“Given the current situations of debt-laden Air India, the two biggest market players are IndiGo and SpiceJet. In the March quarter earnings, it’s expected that both the airlines will put up a great show,” an analyst who does not wish to be named told Quartz.