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Volume IconHow did Air India beat Indigo?

IndiGo, was the most punctual airline in 10 out of the 12 months last year. Now Air India is trying to make a mark. It has left Indigo behind in punctuality. How did Air India manage the turnaround

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It is not an easy task to manage a fleet of over 290 aircraft. One flight delay leaves behind a trail of delays and cancellations. But, the country’s largest airline, IndiGo is known to pull off the difficult feat. In 10 of the twelve months last year, IndiGo had the best on-time performance of any scheduled domestic airline at four metro airports - namely Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai.

In the months of April and November 2021, the two months where IndiGo was not leading that year, it was still trailing at second and third positions.

Being on time is one of IndiGo’s three main focus areas, the other two being low fares and delivering a hassle-free experience. But this year, it was on the top in only two of the first nine months of the year.

On the other hand, Air India, which was previously faring poorly in this metric, has consistently ranked above IndiGo in July, August and September consecutively. 

AirAsia India and full-service carrier Vistara, the other Tata group-owned airlines, have been topping the table in these three months.   

A data analytics-driven app developed by TCS is helping AirAsia India improve its punctuality score. It topped on-time performance (OTP) among major airlines for five consecutive months since April. 

As per the latest data available from DGCA, in September, Vistara emerged as India’s top “on-time” airline, recording an OTP rate of 91%. It was followed by AirAsia India at 89.8% and Air India at 87.1%. At fourth was IndiGo, with 84.1% of its flights being on time. 

Compare this with April when Air India’s OTP at four metro airports was 81.8%, putting it at the sixth spot. 

While 90.1% of IndiGo’s flights flew on time in April, this fell to 80.8% in July amid an unrest by some of its cabin crew and technicians over salaries. This is also when Air India started to steal a march over IndiGo. 

The Tata Group reportedly identified on-time performance as a primary improvement goal at Air India since its acquisition toward the end of January. The Tatas roped in Singapore Airlines Group veteran Campbell Wilson, who took over as the airline’s CEO in June, to lead its turnaround plan. 

Speaking to Business Standard, Mark D Martin, Founder and CEO, Martin Consulting says, Airlines strive to board fliers, load cargo by door close time. Tailwind helps in reaching destinations faster sometimes. It all boils down to building and improving efficiency cyclically. 

Air India has reportedly set up a cross-functional team to comprehensively assess the upcoming flight schedule for the winter season. CEO Campbell Wilson said Air India has invested in IT systems to improve the capability of aircraft predictive maintenance and wants to ensure the right systems are in place to monitor the turnaround times of aircraft. 

Spooked by Air India’s recent rise, IndiGo has asked its cabin crew to make some drastic changes in flight management to improve performance. 

One of the instructions is to close the cabin door within 60 seconds of the last passenger entering the plane, although the passenger may still be in the process of settling down in the cabin. 

Further, the company has asked the pilots to reach the airports at least 75 minutes before the scheduled departures of their flights. They must be seated inside the plane 35 minutes before departure.

IndiGo has also increased the pace of hiring ground staff that was laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark D Martin of Martin Consulting says, Air India improved efficiency of AISATS airport handling team. Landing AI flights have become proactive in obtaining gate allocation. Given IndiGo’s size, it’s not doing bad either. 

At the end of the day, OTP is not just an airline’s responsibility. Airport operators in conjunction with security personnel can ensure better management of crowds and minimise the time it takes to check in. For example, higher capacity and faster clearance at immigration counters could increase efficiency at the terminal side. This will complement the efforts of airlines to improve their on-time performance. 

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First Published: Nov 03 2022 | 7:30 AM IST

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