Jharsuguda, Darbhanga and Durgapur – Spicejet’s near monopoly route launches

Spicejet – the second largest low cost carrier in India, will connect Jharsuguda to Mumbai and Bengaluru starting tomorrow. The airline will offer four times a week service to Jharsuguda from Mumbai and Bengaluru while the flights from Delhi will operate Daily. 

The airline launched services to Jharsuguda from March 2019 when it launched services from Kolkata and Hyderabad. The airline had also launched the Delhi – Jharsuguda route which was discontinued and has been relaunched now. 

Jharsuguda airfield – like many others which have been revived under RCS – UDAN (Regional Connectivity Scheme – Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik), was used by the Royal Air Force and allied forces in World War II and has been lying dormant for a long time. This is the second airport in Odisha – which has relied only on Bhubaneswar for connectivity to the state. The airport’s location helps it to cater to parts of Jharkhand as well as parts of Chattisgarh. Notable areas around the airport are Raigarh and Rourkela which are industrialised and house heavy industries, steel, power and mining industries.

The new model

While often questioned for its survival skills and ability to continue operations, I have been intrigued by the template which the airline has been using in the recent past. The last one was at Darbhanga – which the airline launched in November. While the flights to Darbhanga were launched from Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru – there have since been additions or additions have been planned from Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Pune.

Darbhanga caters to a similar region which Patna caters to, but Patna is heavily congested and has limited slots and apron availability. This strategy improves the pricing potential for the airline due to monopoly routes and differentiation.

Durgapur – was another airport where the airline launched services under RCS-UDAN and later extended the connectivity. Durgapur – like Darbhanga or Jharsuguda does not have a large population of its own but caters to a large catchment area. While initially the airline started routes under UDAN – it later upped its connectivity to Durgapur.

Spicejet is a monopoly operator at Darbhanga, while it seems competition from state owned Alliance Air – a subsidiary of Air India but the one which is not up for sale, at Jharsuguda, At Durgapur, the airline competes with Air India.

The story is similar at few other airports like Kandla, Gwalior, Porbandar or Kishangarh! 

Is this the way forward?

How long does it take to attract the attention of the market leader or another player in the market? Not much! While India has very high costs of operations, even Jet Airways had matched the in-flight offerings including seat mounted IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) when Kingfisher launched such a service! To match a route by starting a new station is much easier to implement! 

There also are other challenges which the airline has to face. While the initial days of operations at Darbhanga were seamless and the flights were filled to the brim, with fog setting in – there have been cancellations, delays and diversions – all of which have an adverse network impact leading to delays on other flights across the network as well as consumer sentiment taking a hit. 

In an environment where the focus is on lowest cost winning the game and having some possibility of making money, the focus which should be on market development and expansion takes a hit! 

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