The Indian market has a lot of potential for regional aviation, and if an operator plays the cards right, sustaining business is not an issue, Star Air CEO, Simran Singh Tiwana has said. Tiwana also said that the airline is aiming to double its passenger volumes this year as it scales up its fleet and adds three new destinations excluding Jaipur, which is set to be launched on Monday.
Set up in 2019 by the Kolhapur-based diversified business house, Sanjay Ghodawat Group, the airline has a fleet of five Embraer aircraft operating to 16 destinations under the Central government’s regional connectivity scheme, UDAN, from its two operational bases, Bengaluru and Belagavi.
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“India has a lot of regional potentials, which remains untapped. I think regional travel might grow five-fold in the next five years.” Tiwana said.
Stating that it is “possible” to operate a regional airline in India successfully, he said, “You play your cards right, go for the right network, which is in line with the aircraft you operate (and) that makes a big difference (in terms of sustaining operations). Star Air, according to him, is operationally profitable.
“I think regional connectivity exists beyond short-haul routes. If we think it is connecting smaller stations with Mumbai, Delhi, among others, we need to think about it different,” Tiwana added.
He, however, said that wildlife issues, some gaps in the runways operations, and watch-out hours at certain UDAN airports remain some of the challenges for the regional air operators.
“Our business model is not clashing with anybody else in India. We have a separate business, separate market, and we are just trying to grow it,” he said.
“Our markets have been very different, and we are eating into anybody’s market share as we are doing all monopoly routes,” emphasised.
An all-Embraer planes operator, the airline owns four aircraft (E145), which are 60-seater and has signed lease agreements for four bigger, 76-seater E175 planes, he said. Of these, one has already been inducted into the fleet, while the remaining three planes are planned to be inducted by September this year.
According to him, the decision to own the aircraft in the initial years of setting up the airline helped it navigate during the pandemic and sustain operations as “operating an (an owned) aircraft and leased aircraft operations are all completely two different ball games.”
“And, I think a lot of startups (airlines) had it wrong,” he said in an apparent reference to several regional airlines such Air Pegasus, Air Costa, and Air Carnival, which started on regional routes with a bang but went belly up after over a period of time in the last 8-9 years.
He said that in the last four-and-a-half years, the airline had been preparing to go into the lease model and added that a good background of operations and cash flows made the lessors comfortable (in leasing out the planes).
Stating that the launching of flight services to Junagadh from Bangalore via Hyderabad, with the larger plane, is aimed at both addressing the demand and also adding capacity in a measured tone, he said, “We don’t want to be too aggressive. The routes we are flying on are trying to mature over the period of time.”
On Saturday, Star Air commenced operations of its Embraer E175 jet with a flight service on the Bangalore-Hyderabad-Jamnagar route, offering business class and economy, making it the first regional carrier to have aircraft in twin class configuration.
The airline plans to operate 20 percent of its flights on non-UDAN, he said, and added that as many as 12 UDAN routes are expected to become mature in the coming months, which then can be converted into commercial routes.
Tiwana also said that Star Air will be participating in the fifth round of the regional connectivity scheme. “The bidding has just opened a few days back. We have time up till June 1 to file the bids, but we will be filing,” he added.
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