Small Planet Airlines starts wet-leased operations for IndiGo

In 2015, I had written how IndiGo was doing a smart thing by converting its 30 A320ceo on order to the A320neo. Back then, it was assumed that Pratt&Whitney will deliver the Pure Power engines on time without glitches. Unfortunately, what has followed since has affected fleet expansion and fleet renewal plans of every airline which had the A320neo powered by PW engines on order.

Read: IndiGo’s fleet planning – the missing 30 

IndiGo, today, started operations with wet-leased aircraft from Small Planet Airlines. A total of four A320s from Small Planet are now in New Delhi. LY-SPB, an 11 year old A320 which landed in Delhi on 25th November and has been idle for a month is the first to take to the skies flying as 6E 377 to Kolkata. The flight was delayed by close to two hours.

LY-SPA (15 years), LY-ONJ (7 years) & LY-ONL (7 years) are the other aircraft currently in India. All three flew in from Vilnius, Lithuania on 18th December, 29th November and 26th December respectively. These aircraft have all come from the Lithuanian subsidiary of Small Planet Airlines – which specialises in charter operations in Europe.

The induction seems to be delayed since the first aircraft had arrived at the end of November, followed quickly by the second one which would have been ideal to cash in on the December rush, one of the peak months for air traffic in India.

Small Planet has seen operations in India for Go Air while Spicejet has been operating wet-leased aircraft ever since the time it contracted multiple operators to tide over its crisis period. However, both these operators have had their share of controversies arising out of wet-lease operations. A Small Planet Airlines A320, operating for Go Air was involved in an incident at Goa where the crew did not follow the instructions issues by the Goa ATC. Another incident involved A319 of BH Air operating for Spicejet, where the passengers alleged that the crew was not able to give clear instructions due to lack of proper communication.

Wet-lease operations are generally done in dire times and I could not find any dire reason for IndiGo to induct wet-leased aircraft. Additional short term capacity does not sound like a robust reason, since the airline has a robust 400+ aircraft induction plan ahead of it and it certainly doesn’t look at seasonal changes as yet.

For a brand conscious airline like IndiGo, it will be interesting to see how they handle this change from the customer service angle. A different crew, a different uniform, a different seat and not as many announcements and possibly a slower speed of service.

As the airline started facing delays from Airbus for the delivery of A320neo, IndiGo had to extend lease for its aircraft, thus having the aircraft in fleet for more than 6 years – its much touted norm. This delay also led to the airline going ahead with a lease from Tiger Air for a bunch of older A320s as a stop gap arrangement. As the delays further increased and deliveries tapered down, the airline looked to fill the void with A320s with CFM engines, which were not part of the fleet until then with even the Tiger Air aircraft being powered by IAE engines. IndiGo recently inducted the ATR72-600, moving away from its single fleet model. The next in this series seems to be the induction of wet-lease aircraft.

A newspaper report in September (IndiGo eyes wet lease to cash in on winter traffic) had mentioned that the aircraft could continue in its fleet till end of March and the airline could induct upto seven aircraft.

Air India, Jet Airways, Spicejet & Go Air have all had wet lease aircraft with them at some point of time.

The airline in its last filing said that it has received compensation from Pratt & Whitney for the delay in delivery of the A320neos but did not specify how much is the compensation. IndiGo moved to giving a guidance for increase in capacity in terms of ASKs and not number of aircraft since the first quarter of Financial year 2017-18, after it failed to meet the aircraft induction guidance for Q4 and last fiscal year.

The airline is slowly moving from its simple “no-frills” model to a more complex one which involves a network carrier model with a hub & spoke, two sub fleets on the passenger side for the A320 (180 & 186 seater), the ATR72-600 fleet and soon to join A321s, which would be followed up by the wide body aircraft in due course of time.

One wonders how they would handle this migration and why are they moving away from the time tested model which the company kept harping upon.


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