With the New Year, comes a new airline for the Indian aviation industry

The new low-cost carrier is connecting smaller towns under the government’s UDAN scheme

SP's ShowNews - Aero India 2021 - Day 2 By Ayushee Chaudhary

The last year certainly went by, having presented many challenges for the aviation industry. However, it also nudged the industry towards innovation and shifted the focus more towards regional connectivity. Amid the ups and down, it was a positive start to the New Year for the aviation industry in India as the country’s newest airline, Flybig, started its operation under the management team of Gurugram-based Big Charter Private Limited.

“As a young country, India still has towns and cities which are not connected by direct flights, people mostly have no option but to use inconvenient and timeconsuming modes of transportation. We at Flybig intend to change this in conjunction with the UDAN initiative,” the airline stated.

Flybig is betting on regional connectivity as a recovery resource to come out stronger from the pandemic impacts. Using an ATR72, Flybig is connecting smaller towns under the government’s UDAN scheme, which is subsidised by the government to promote regional connectivity. UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) is a regional airport development and “Regional Connectivity Scheme” (RCS) of the Government of India, which aims to “let the common citizen of the country fly”, envisioning at making air travel affordable and widespread. The new airline will thus operate several weekly flights on routes under the Centre’s RCS, which connects smaller towns and cities and includes government support in the form of viability gap funding, besides tax concessions.

Founded by pilot-turned entrepreneur Sanjay Mandavia, Flybig has already collaborated with over 15,000 agents, and is attempting at striking collaborations with online travel agencies as well to keep forging ahead. Mandavia was also reported to be in the race for acquiring Jet Airways. With Tata raising its stakes in Air Asia, Air India’s management expected to change and Jet Airways also hinting towards a comeback, Flybig’s entry into the Indian Aviation industry is quite exciting.

As of now, Flybig will reportedly operate three times a week to begin with and eventually look for transitioning to five flights per week from February. The inaugural flight of Flybig took off from its base, Indore on January 3 and concluded its journey in Ahmedabad in the course of an hour and five minutes. The airline has also added an Indore-Raipur flight to its network, an Ahmedabad-Bhopal flight is also expected to begin operations next month. By the end of March, Flybig aims to operate flights connecting all the three cities. A ‘special flight’ has also been organised by the airline for differently-abled on January 31 in Jabalpur, which is expected to be added in the airline’s network in the second stage.

To save service hurdles in the short-term flight duration, the new low-cost carrier, Flybig has also reportedly opted for offering snacks as part of the ticket. With this, the fares are also planned to be kept low but services like a second checked bag and priority check-in will come under extra cost. This way, the airline will follow a hybrid model, by serving snacks on board, but un-bundling other services. “We don’t want to sell food on-board as the flying time is less. That will prevent us from giving a proper service and could lead to frustration among fliers. Thus we opted to offer snacks as part of the ticket,” said Srinivas Rao, Chief Executive of Flybig.

Aviation consultancy CAPA India also attributes low fares as drivers for strong demand on regional routes. “Our model suggests that if small regional airports are connected to a major regional hub, and a cost-effective regional carrier emerges, there would perhaps be a business case for an affiliate airline in India,” CAPA India stated in a research report on regional air travel.

Even when it had not launched its maiden flight, Flybig had flown a chartered Delhi-Shillong flight on December 21 after acquiring a permit from regulator DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) on December 14. The commencement of this was conducted via an aircraft granted on wet lease from SpiceJet. This was also undertaken to coincide with the Meghalaya government’s step to open up the state for tourism as domestic travel recovers gradually from the COVID-19 pandemic.“We have won the tender from the state government to operate the Delhi-Shillong flight for three years,” Rao had said earlier. From January, the company will operate two weekly flights on the route. Eventually, added the senior executive, the company plans to deploy its own aircraft on the route. The airline’s second focus is aimed on the North-Eastern region of the country. Apart from the Delhi-Shillong route, which the airline has already explored, Flybig will further operate between other states in the region. The base for the carrier is likely to be Guwahati with the Imphal, Aizwal, and Tezpur being on the list to be flown to.

As the domestic air travel in the country is slowly improving, Flybig has managed to gather a decent response from customers in the initial schedules and is determined to take more and more passengers across the country. Additionally as airline capacity is nearing 80 per cent in the country, expecting a full recovery, Flybig might even be able to tap into newer markets in the future.

Going further as well, the airline will aim to operate turboprop aircraft like ATR72 and Q400, which can accommodate 70-80 passengers, for regional routes. “The strategy is to keep costs low, bring down the number of staff per aircraft reasonably and also avail viability gap funding from the government (to fly on routes under the regional connectivity scheme),” Rao said. The airline is reportedly in talks with HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) to buy four Dornier aircraft that can be also turned into cargo carrier or an air ambulance, as per the needs.