In June 2014, AirAsia India took to the skies. The first joint venture after a change in ownership rules, Southeast Asia’s most talked about low-cost carrier tying up with the Tata group and ambitious plans to turn profitable within a year marked the launch. While the AirAsia India venture went from one controversy to another, IndiGo was listed on the bourses in the second half of 2015.
IndiGo had a fleet count of 97 aircraft as it closed Q3 of Calendar Year 2015. AirAsia group, which consisted of subsidiaries in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and India, along with the three long-haul carriers — AirAsia X in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia — closed the same quarter with 194 aircraft across all subsidiaries.
Cut to the same quarter of this calendar year and IndiGo and AirAsia group stand at exactly the same number of aircraft: 282. While IndiGo has added a staggering 185 aircraft, the AirAsia group, which saw one of its long-haul subsidiaries close down and also a venture in Japan start and fail, has grown only by 88 additional aircraft.
AirAsia’s challenge fizzling out in India?
AirAsia India had been wanting to fly on international routes since day 1. While it continues to be embroiled in a controversy over measures used to lobby for the same, the government, under the National Civil Aviation Policy of 2016, changed the 5/20 rule, which required airlines to operate for five years and have a fleet of at least 20 aircraft before they could fly internationally.
The new rule mandates only 20 aircraft to fly international (or 0/20). AirAsia India has been in operation for six years now and has a fleet of 30 aircraft. Ironically, while it could even meet the older criteria and fly international, the airline has not been allowed to do so just yet by the government.
With AirAsia publicly admitting that it is re-evaluating the investment in India, the target of taking IndiGo head-on has long fizzled out. Instead, the last few quarters have looked full of confusion for AirAsia India, with the airline having to write to the Travel Agents Association of India with an assurance that it would continue flying.
Lion Air in sight next
The Lion Air group would be the next one for IndiGo to overtake in terms of fleet size. Lion Air operates subsidiaries such as Batik Air and Wings air within Indonesia, Malindo in Malaysia and Thai Lion Air in Thailand. The airline group has a fleet of 320 aircraft across its various subsidiaries. Flagship Lion Air — the largest carrier within the Lion Air group — has only 141 aircraft, half of what IndiGo has in its fleet.
At the global level, Southwest Airlines, the world’s largest low-cost carrier, has a fleet of over 700 aircraft — a number that is larger than the fleet of all the commercial airlines in India combined. Ryanair, another popular low-cost carrier, has over 450 aircraft operating across multiple subsidiaries.