We expect to sell more Q-400 planes for regional routes: Torbjorn Karlsson

Last Updated: Sun, Mar 10, 2013 05:30 hrs

ATR, Bombardier and Embraer are making a strong pitch for their planes, with growing number of Indian airlines planning expansion in regional routes. Bombardier is also promoting its latest C series planes, which will compete with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 in the narrow body market. The C series plane will make its first flight in June. Torbjorn Karlsson, Bombardier's vice-president (sales), Asia-Pacific, talks to Aneesh Phadnis on the growth of regional aviation in India and the resulting demand for small planes. Edited excerpts:

What is the size of regional jet market in India? What opportunities does Bombardier see here?
Bombardier released a 20-year forecast last year and our estimate is that India will require about 640 planes in the 60-149 seats category. India and China will be the top two markets in this category over the next 20 years. India is a significant market place for us. The regional market in India is under-served because of the airlines' focus on planes with a capacity of 180 or more seats.

Why has the regional market remained under-served?
It's due to a number of factors. Predominantly, air travel in India has grown from capital cities. That's where you have the airports. But what you are seeing now is that a growing number of Indians from the hinterland are getting accustomed to speed and convenience of air travel. I see regional air transport take off with SpiceJet connecting tier-II and-III cities.

What is the near-term view. How many planes will Bombardier sell in India in two-three years?
We do not forecast aircraft sales in near term. However, media reports over the last six months do indicate that airlines in India are looking at planes with less than 100 seats. There are two reasons for this interest--airlines want to tap the regional market and also that the government is putting in place incentives for operating smaller aircraft.

SpiceJet has purchased 15 Bombardier Q-400s and has an option to buy another 15 planes. Have they made the decision on it?
I cannot comment on what our customers plan to do. SpiceJet has received 15 aircraft with the last three coming in December. The Q-400s are doing extremely well. The opportunity size in India for these planes is clearly more than 15 and we clearly see potential for SpiceJet to deploy more Q-400s in the market. I can easily see two-three other airlines getting into regional routes with the Q-400s

Bombardier has received orders for 180 C series planes, but none from India. Why?
I think the short-term opportunity in India is driven more by turbo props planes with a capacity of less than 90 seats. There are not many of them flying in India at the moment, but are ideal for high growth regional markets.

Is there a market in India for the C series planes?
There is definitely a market for them. In India, air travel is concentrated between capitals and and tier II cities. We have not seen air connectivity between tier-III and -III or -II and -III cities. But I feel the C series will do extremely well in connecting routes in the SAARC (South Asian) region. India has a potential to become an aviation hub in the region. A hub will be successful when it creates maximum number of connections. The advantage of the C series planes is that they are cheaper than the current generation narrow body planes and are of right size for Asian markets. Our analysis of daily demand in Asia shows that over half of all flights flown in 2011 departed with loads appropriate for 100-150 seat aircraft. On an overall market perspective, 86 per cent of all markets in the region belong to the less than 150-seat segment. We are having conversation with a number of Indian carriers. Most of them have been focussed on profitability and with domestic market share. The C series will do its first flight in June and that will also drive interest.

How cost competitive are C Series aircraft
The operating costs are 15-20 percent lower than the current generation airplanes. The wings are fully made of carbon components and we have used aluminum lithium for for fuselage, which makes the aircraft light. The C series plane is 12,000 lbs lighter than current generation aircraft like airbus A319 and more fuel efficient.

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