Thursday, March 18, 2021

Regional airline Star Air beats bigger peers IndiGo, SpiceJet on passenger load

In a rare instance, one that industry observers say may have happened for the first time, a regional airline has clocked the highest load factor in February.

Star Air, a regional airline promoted by the Sanjay Ghodawat Group, recorded a passenger load factor of 79 percent, up from 71.2 percent in January. In second place was bigger peer SpiceJet at 78.9 percent, third was the Wadia family-owned GoAir with 76.5 percent. Country's largest airline IndiGo had a load factor of 74.4 percent.

Based in Bengaluru, Star Air had trailed SpiceJet in January. Since the domestic flights resumed in May 2020, the airline had been close on the heels of its bigger airlines when it came to filling its seats.

Interestingly, Star Air had nearly the same load factor a year ago too. In February 2020, it stood at 79.1 percent. But it ranked ninth on the list of 12 airlines whose data is tracked by industry regulator DGCA. SpiceJet was the highest at 93 percent.

Yes, it will be tough to compare Star Air directly with its larger peers. IndiGo has a fleet of 284 aircraft. Star Air has five. The country's largest airline at present operates 1,000 flights a day. Star Air does 125 a week. And because of its much wider operations, IndiGo's load factor averages lower than most of its peers, most of the months.

But the smaller airline's industry beating load factor, even as all the carriers in the industry continue in their road path to recovery amid the pandemic, is not a one-off case. It is one of the many indicators that now underline the shift in Indian aviation since the COVID-19 created a havoc - that of passenger traffic moving towards smaller cities and towns, against the metros, which till now dominated the industry.

Star Air CEO Simran Singh Tiwana agrees that the focus on smaller cities has helped the airline. In fact, the carrier has already surpassed its pre-COVID-19 numbers. It ended 2020 with a total passenger traffic of 9 lakh passengers, up from  a little over 6 lakh fliers in 2019.

18/03/21 Prince Mathews Thomas/Moneycontrol

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