India’s newest airline, Akasa Air, does not foresee any shortage of pilots or cabin crew as it expands operations.
"We don't see a shortfall. And I think Vinay (Dube) addressed this yesterday by giving some statistics,” cofounder and Chief Commercial Officer Praveen Iyer said, referring to the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Akasa Air.
“There are 2,500 to 3,000 new licensees that got issued in the last couple of years. A lot of them are still looking for jobs. A lot of them are not placed. So clearly, the way we stand today, we are not seeing a dearth in the availability of cabin crew, cockpit crew, engineers and even staff engineers," Iyer told Moneycontrol at the Capa India Aviation Summit 2023.
Before the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner in 2019 and the collapse of Jet Airways, Spicejet and Jet Airways combined were operating 120-130 Boeing aircraft in India, Iyer said.
But now the number has fallen to around 60 aircraft, which has left the pilots flying the Boeing planes jobless.
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"So that is why I'm saying there is no shortfall. There are enough and more pilots available, and I don't see that as a constraint," Iyer said.
Iyer added that Akasa Air had already started operating a 15,000 sq.ft. training academy in Delhi for cabin crew and will soon set up another one in Bengaluru.
Akasa launched operations in August 2022 and operates a growing fleet of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. It currently operates 110 domestic flights a day to 17 cities with a fleet of 19 jets.
By March 2024, Akasa’s fleet will grow to 28 aircraft as it expands operations, Iyer said.
"We expect to induct 6-7 aircraft in the next financial year and then around 12–16 aeroplanes are likely to be added every year, taking the fleet size to 72 by 2027," Iyer said.
At the 2021 Dubai air show, the carrier ordered 72 Max 8s, deliveries of which will run until 2027.
Akasa Air currently operates over 700 flights a week across 17 cities. The airline also plans to commence international flights within six hours of flight time from India with its narrow-body Boeing 737 MAX fleet by December.
Iyer added that Akasa Air will follow the same service model when flying internationally as it does in the domestic market, and will not look to operate like a a full-service carrier when flying on overseas routes.
"We don't want customers to walk away with a feeling that if somebody is categorised as a low-cost carrier, it means we take away certain features of the product away from the customers," Iyer said.
Akasa Air plans to keep offering customers the option to travel with their pets when flying internationally as well.
"As long as it doesn't have a regulatory framework associated with flying with pets, and we follow the framework of what needs to be followed, we will continue to offer pets on-board even for international routes," Iyer said.
In the domestic market, Akasa Air has identified gaps it needs to fill and is looking to add flights on those routes rather than compete with incumbent airlines on larger domestic routes such as Delhi-Mumbai.
"Our focus is around getting into Tier-2, Tier-3 cities, we see there is a demand-supply gap, and we are just trying to fulfil that, and we are happy with some of the others routes that we are flying out of Bombay -– Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Bangalore," Iyer said.
At the moment Akasa Air flies to Ahmedabad, Pune, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar, Kochi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bagdogra, Delhi, Visakhapatnam, Goa, Guwahati, Agartala, Varanasi, Kolkata and Lucknow.
Iyer also added that the airline was focused on boosting its ancillary revenue going forward.
"We have tied up with a company called TripFactory with the packaging of hotels, etc. We are going to really market that to a large extent," Iyer said.
He added that apart from tie-ups for packaged deals on hotels and offering pet-on-board services, the airline was also planning to start merchandising soon to boost ancillary revenue.
"Merchandising is something which we are working on, which would include Akasa caps, sneakers, Akasa pens, Akasa airplane models. And at some stage, we will make an announcement around merchandising," Iyer said.