The world’s best performing airline is one that was about to shut down a year ago

Rising from ashes.
Rising from ashes.
Image: AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi
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Last December, SpiceJet, an Indian airline founded in May 2005, looked set to go into a death spiral.

The company had been consistently making losses for three years and its creditors were lining up to recover dues. The then promoters were busy scouting for buyers, while the airline grounded all its aircraft after defaulting on fuel payments.

Eleven months later, the Gurgaon-headquartered company has emerged as the world’s best performing airline stock.

Between December 2014 and November 2015, SpiceJet’s share price has soared by a staggering 340%, the highest for any airline in the world, according to Bloomberg. The company’s stock price on the BSE has rocketed to Rs69 per share as of Nov. 25, from Rs18 on Dec. 22.

This colossal surge has bettered the likes of Israel’s El Al Israel Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Qantas Airways whose share prices grew in the range of 100-300%. India’s second-biggest airline by market share, Jet Airways could only record a 29% jump during the same period.

“We came out of a situation when the company was actually shut down in the middle of last December,” Ajay Singh, SpiceJet’s chairman told Bloomberg. “We’ve looked at some of the cost elements, tried to bring the cost down. We’ve tried to instill confidence in consumers who’d been badly impacted by cancellations last year.”

Singh, who was among the earliest promoters of the airline, took control of the company from the Sun Group during the airline’s financial crisis in January this year.

The big turnaround

Since March 2015, the airline has posted three consecutive quarters of profits, helped mainly by a restructuring of its operations—including cutting down operations on non-profitable flying routes—and lower crude oil prices. The airline also managed to renegotiate some of its engineering and maintenance contracts.

“We stuck to the very basics of operating a low-cost carrier—a two-pronged strategy of reducing cost and maximising revenues,” a SpiceJet spokesperson had told Quartz in July this year.

On a stronger footing now, SpiceJet has firmed up plans to purchase 100 new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus in addition to over 50 small aircraft from Bombardier. The company hopes to clinch these deals before March 2016.

Enroute, it is also chasing IndiGo—India’s largest airline company and SpiceJet’s main rivalwhich made a stunning debut on the Indian stock bourses last month. InterGlobe Aviation, which operates IndiGo, already has a market valuation in excess of $5.7 billion.

Singh’s priority is to now ensure that SpiceJet—which is currently valued at a little more than $620 million—catches up quickly.

“The gap which exists between SpiceJet and IndiGo will not sustain to this extent for a significant period of time,” Singh told Bloomberg. ”The valuation of the company is out of sync with the market situation and reality. It’s undervalued.”