MIAMI – Indian regional airlines Star Air (OG), Alliance Air (9I), TruJet (2T), Air Heritage (4H) and Zoom Air (ZO) are ready to resume full operations in 2021.

Though Bangalore-base commuter airline OG, Air India’s (AI) subsidiary 9I and Hyderabad-based 2T have begun flying again, plans are being made by Heritage Aviation’s 4H and New Delhi-based scheduled carrier ZO to restart services.

After flights were interrupted due to the pandemic, all these airlines took a hit and still face problems such as lack of preparation, mismanagement of their fleets routes that are not viable.

Star Air CEO Simran Singh Tiwana told The Hindu Business Line, “Of course, COVID made a dent in the balance sheets of all airlines. But our dent was smaller because most of our routes are regional and the scale is smaller. We have an occupancy of 75%, our occupancy prior to Covid was 85 per cent. Our PLF was easier to fill because of the smaller aircraft size.”

Flybig ATR Water Cannon Salute Photo: Flybig Airlines – @flybigairlines

India’s Newest Player

FSTC Group recently launched Flybig (S9), the newest Indian airline, which inaugurated operations with a flight from Indore (IDR) to Ahmedabad (AMD) last week.

The airline plans to scale up operations to five flights a week by mid-February and while having both an ATR 72 and a Dash 8 Q400, it plans on eventually adding more ATR aircraft. Some of the routes that S9 will eventually add include IDR to Raipur (RPR) along with AMD to Bhopal (BHO), among other small to medium cities.

Sanjay Mandavia, Founder of FlyBig, told BusinessLine, “We had a plan to induct five aircraft, however, we had a slight delay in getting permissions. We will induct three aircraft this fiscal. All our aircraft will be leased aircraft. For FY22, we would want to establish ourselves at the UDAN-4 leader – we have been awarded approximately 15 routes.”

Photo: Wiki Commons

A Rocky Restart of Operations

Two out of five other regional carriers, 4H and ZO are planning to resume operations by the end of January. Rohit Mathur, Director of Heritage Aviation, told Business Line that his Pilots had gone abroad for training prior to the pandemic, but they did not return.

However, an industry insider cited by the Hindu news outlet said that due to mismanagement of the route map, the airline’s operations had to be halted.

Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

The news outlet stated that Mathur did not comment on the matter; instead, he claimed that it was difficult to find Pilots for smaller aircraft. Mathur added that the carrier planned to introduce new aircraft and restart the LA-410 19-seater for a long-term lease, adding that this would occur the first week of January-end or February.

ZoomAir’s story is similar. Its AOC was suspended by the DGCA in February last year, according to Koustav Dhar, CEO of ZoomAir, after struggling to sustain a five-aircraft fleet and facing manpower problems. Before the pandemic struck, ZO was operational until March. In the meantime, the airline operated a fleet of five planes, but did not have adequate Pilots. This went on until last year in August.

Dhar told BusinessLine, “In September, we applied for AOC from the DGCA, and we have five aircraft on SLB model, and we have pilots and crew in flesh in India who have been recruited from Spain and France.”

Trujet inaugural flight | Water cannon salute | Crossing Rainbow HD

A Streamlined Restart

The other aforementioned three airlines were able to restart operations in May of last year and have been able to thrive since then. These airlines have streamlined their networks and have redeployed aircraft on active routes. OG had 16 pre-COVID flights. It now has 22. Three destinations were added to Ajmer, and 4-5 other destinations were also connected, said OG’s CEO.

Finally, While 2T had seven aircraft and served on 64 routes pre-COVID, the carrier has resumed operations with four aircraft and operated on at least 50% of its routes; however, according to LSN Murthy, 2Tt’s CEO, the airline does not yet look good on the PLF. As such, 2T plans for a gradual addition to be made.

Star Air aircrafts (Embraer 145) at Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru. Photo: Star Air

Funds Needed

Murthy told Business Line, “We will induct two more aircraft this month and one more in February. We had to infuse some funds; however, we do not wish to disclose that amount. From January onwards, we will start paying full salaries to our employees, too.”

To remain alive, OG, too, had to infuse money, but has already begun paying its workers full salaries. “We had three pre-Covid aircraft, we added one in November, and now we are planning to add another one in January,” Tiwana said.

Satyendra Pandey, Managing Partner of AT-TV, a consultancy monitoring regional airlines, said the future of regional airlines in India remains bleak for a variety of reasons.

The lack of preparation, talent, fleet mismanagement and unviable routes are a major challenge for regional airlines. While UDAN is a good boost for these airlines, the UDAN limit wouldn’t last long, either, he said.

Regardless of what some critics might say about them, we have to watch what these Indian regional airlines do in 2021.

Featured image: A Star Air Embraer 145 parked at kempegowda Airport, Bangalore. Photo: Wiki Commons