While the country waits for an order from either Air India or Jet Airways or both, the surprise came from Star Air! The Bengaluru headquartered all Embraer operator has signed a deal with Nordic Aviation Capital (NAC) for leasing two E175 aircraft. E175 is an interesting choice and signals that the airline is ready to move up the ladder in terms of expansion. This will be the second time that the E175 will see service in India. Paramount Airways operated three E175s, all of which are flying for Air Canada Express today.
The E175 is a slightly stretched version of the E170 and entered service in 2005 with Air Canada. The aircraft is capable of accommodating between 68 to 88 passengers depending on the configuration. This will be a 60% jump in terms of capacity for Star Air if it decides to upguage its current routes. If the airline continues with the existing seat pitch as on its E145, it could configure the aircraft in 76 – 80 seats range. The E175 is also the most sold E-jet with orders at 840 E175s at the end of 2021. Of these 693 have been delivered and a backlog of 147 remained as of Dec 31, 2021. The E175 has a range of 4074kms.
Star Air started operations in January 2019 and has built a fleet of five E145s. These aircraft are believed to be owned and not leased unlike most of the players in the industry. The E145 first flew in 1995 and was introduced commercially in 1997. The current aircraft of Star Air average above 17 years in age. Four of those have been manufactured in Brazil, while one has been assembled in China. The E145LR has a range of 2873kms. For lessor NAC, this is the second customer in India. The lessor has leased Q400s to SpiceJet.
The airline has been consistently carrying about 20,000 passengers per month. The airline made a loss of INR 18.7 crore in FY20-21, while it had lost INR 36.6 crore in FY19-20 as per data submitted in the parliament. The airline will have to work with the regulator to work on the operational side to add a new type on its Air Operating Certificate (AOC).
The airline is spread too thin with operations to 18 stations with just five aircraft. This often is the death knell for regional aviation in India where expansion and one flight a day stations do not recover enough cost to stay profitable. However, this drain is partially filled up by the routes being in RCS-UDAN helping the airline.
How will the E175s be deployed? The range of E145 as well as E175 covers the entire country. With a requirement of 20 aircraft to fly international, Star Air is far from that aim. The upguage in capacity is what the airline would look at. There are multiple routes within the Star Air network which have been doing well in terms of loads. Natural progression demands that there be an increase in either capacity. This can be done in two ways. Either deploying an aircraft with more seats or adding a frequency. With another aircraft in the type which has higher capacity, the airline has the ability to opt for the first approach.
The group could also shift some of its current E145s to Kolhapur when infrastructure permits and utilise the E175s on existing routes like those to Hindon (Gaziabad) from Hubbali and Kalaburagi.
This deal shifts the focus back on the regional jets category which has not had as much success in India as it has in other parts of the world. In most developing markets like India, the focus is on adding seats and bigger aircraft to reduce the Cost Per Seat to the minimum. The regional jets on the other hand, have a higher cost per seat but lower “trip cost”. The trip cost symbolises the total cost for conducting one flight (or trip). Some older articles on this website could give an insight into the operations of regional jets.