I was enjoying a holiday when I got a message inviting me for Star Air’s inaugural flight with the E175. I have been a big fan of regional aviation for ages and continue to see scope to operate regional jets in India, profitably. With a few adjustments it was time to head to Bengaluru for the inaugural. There were many aspects to this. I had never flown Star Air, making it a new airline for me. Star Air operates from T2 at Bengaluru, which I had not visited and being a champion of regional jets – seeing a regional airline grow is always heartening.
At 0415 hours, I was in Bengaluru and a quick snack later took the very efficient inter terminal shuttle to reach T2. The garden terminal was nicely lit and looked huge as I made my way inside the terminal. Currently, Star Air, AirAsia India and Vistara operate from T2; with Star Air being the first one to move. The Star Air check-in kiosks were decorated for the occasion. This was the first time in the history of the airline that a dedicated Business class counter was open, for the five E145s which the airline operated are all economy class with a total of 50 seats in 2×1 configuration.
There were a few invitees for the flight and teams of Star Air as well as Embraer were present. The passengers who had booked this flight were in for a surprise. While check-in continued for people, the invitees from BIAL, CISF and other agencies made their way to the celebration area. Graced with the presence of Simran Singh Tiwana – the CEO of Star Air, traditional lamp lighting followed with congratulatory notes from every dignitary. It was time to cut the cake and what better way than possibly the youngest passenger on the flight doing the honours with her parents and being thrilled about it. With cake distributed amongst passengers and photo op done with the giant boarding pass, Mr. Tiwana spoke to the passengers and members of the press, outlining the vision of Star Air, the current situation, deployment of new planes, additional inductions and routes.
It was time to bid goodbye to the check-in area and head towards the aircraft. Its too early to comment about T2 at Bengaluru, for I could see a lot of flaws and will reach out to concerned teams with suggestions. For today, the focus was Star Air and I reached boarding gate 26 – remote boarding gate. Within minutes we were at Stand#102 where VT-GSI stood in all its glory. A ramp jacket with me ensured that I could take a quick walk around with the permission of the ground staff, while loading of cargo continued. It helped me click a nice picture of the aircraft.
Onboard, a near full flight was eager to take-off as we waited for doors to close and pushback to commence. The pilot announced details about the route, the expected time and informed us about having to wait for clearances before we could commence pushback. I utilised this time to explore the aircraft.
The E175s of Star Air
Star Air signed a deal with lessor NAC for two E175s last year, which was followed up with another two aircraft on lease – which are expected by September this year. VT-GSI is less than five years old. The aircraft was delivered to Belarussian carrier Belavia in April 2019. A mix of pandemic and sanctions seem to have gotten the aircraft out of Belarus before making its way to India.
The aircraft are configured with 12 Business class seats (4 rows of 2×1) and 64 Economy class seats (16 rows of 2×2). The seats are plush and I am short of words to describe how comfortable they are. They have excessive padding – both for the back and the bottom and yet gives great legroom. A feature of Embraer which I have always loved in all my travels is the large windows and this flight and aircraft were no different.
The “LR” variant which VT-GSI is, has a Maximum Takeoff weight of 38,790kg, service ceiling of 41,000 feet with a maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.82. The typical dual class configuration comprises the business class seats with 36” pitch while the economy class has 31” pitch. WIthout an emergency exit over the wings, it gives the flexibility to the operator to adjust the seats without any hinderance.
The aircraft has two washrooms and two galleys, forward and aft. I visited the aft washroom which is bigger than the ones on the new generation A320/B737 aircraft. The aircraft has what is known as double bubble design allowing passengers to carry one baggage in the cabin, a larger cargo hold over older regional jets amongst other things. The E175 features a low-wing monoplane design with a conventional tailed body.’
The aircraft features a winglet which is remarkably different from the E190 and E195s. The E170 and E175s have similar winglets while the E190s and E195s have similar winglets. The aircraft manufactured post 2014 have the 45 degree winglet, and this aircraft is one of those.
Time for pushback
Soon we pushed back from our bay for a short taxi to runway 27R during which the crew conducted the safety demo. We made a powerful takeoff – possibly using less than half the runway. Star Air became the 57th airline flown for me.
The short distance to Hyderabad, saw us reach a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet or FL300 but we started our descent within minutes. The seats are plush with cushioning which is definitely the best in the market. The tray tables are long and wide and can handle one large tray on it and the windows have always been the cherry on the cake for me on all my Embraer flights – be it with LOT Polish or Air Astana and today was no different.
The crew was quickly on its feet starting the meal service, with the pre-booked meals coming in first. Something which I have admired on AirAsia in the past and always wondered why IndiGo can’t do it. This was followed by a quick run with water (free for all) and buy-on-board service which comprises cookies, noodles, cold drinks amongst others. I was blown away by the charges – which are just slightly higher than those on ground and probably the cheapest in Indian skies.
The pilot made another announcement – this time informing about the arrival time in Hyderabad and the weather details. We aligned for Runway Two-Seven Left and landed smoothly, exiting the active runway almost immediately or so it felt. Smaller plane but a jet has a different experience than both the turboprops and narrowbodies.
It was time to exit the aircraft, wave goodbye to the plane and the team and head to the terminal. The short flight was an affair to remember!
There are two ways of adding capacity on a route – deploying aircraft with more seats or increasing the frequency of flights. By adding frequency, one would simply double the capacity overnight, while deploying a higher capacity aircraft allows for a stepped-up increase, which helps with being closer to market reality.
The airline has made it clear that it would utilise the E145s to launch a new route and based on route maturity move towards the E175s. The curious case of Business Class remains. The airline will have the highest business class seats on offer between Hyderabad – Bengaluru, while the rest of the capacity is on monopoly routes. For booking business class, though – the airline has not yet integrated itself with all the OTAs and one has to rely on the airline website or call centre for the booking.
Since the airline does not operate to metros, the DGCA does not release daily On Time Performance data for the airline. It will be good if the airline can itself do it to give it a headstart against competition. This is a curious case of the market not knowing what a beautiful product is on offer, especially on the competitive Bengaluru – Hyderabad route. Plush seats, large tray table, big windows and lesser passengers, not to mention the “No middle seat” concept of Embraer.
Hopefully as the network expands, the market will get as much information on the product helping the airline lap up more passengers.
I was invited by Star Air for this flight and it was sponsored by the airline
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One thought on “Experiencing the Star Air E175 on its first commercial flight”
A very good morning Mr. Joshi and pleased to know that you were one among distinguished invitees at the inaugural flight of Star Air’s latest E175 .
I found from their website that Star Air is connecting city of Jamnagar in Gujarat , with daily two flights to Hyderabad & Bengaluru with this latest Aircraft ,for which they might have done market research.
But as per my decades old experience in Airlines field and that to specifically route expansion / exploration , says that instead of Jamnagar with two daily flights on above routes , in future , it may happen that operations may have to be suspended due to not reaching desired load factor. This has happened with all the regional airlines under UDAN scheme in Gujarat that has done similar mistake.
What I strongly believe that instead of Jamnagar , my city of Rajkot is bigger in population , with better expansion on infrastructure , commercial hub of this entire region which is half of Gujarat and more specifically Air India and Indigo are the only regular players here , there is need of flights under UDAN scheme for said sectors of Star Air.
In near future , Rajkot will also be on the map of International Airports so the air traffic will be booming here.
Sir , I just want to share above to the concerned authorities at Star Air , with my prime intention to join their team and I strongly believe that your connections with them shall be helpful to me.
Thanks for sparing me your valuable time in reading this message