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Low cost carrier IndiGo on Friday received the first turbo-prop aircraft ATR 72-600 as it prepares to foray into regional operations from December.
The profitable airline, which faces competition from the likes of SpiceJet, Jet Airways and Air India, has placed orders for 50 such aircraft with Franco-Italian manufacturer ATR.
The order is also the biggest placed by any Indian carrier with the company.
"Today's delivery represents a major step in the airline's ambitious plan to further develop its fleet with the introduction of fuel-efficient and cost-effective ATR 72-600s, thus expanding its regional footprint and bringing air connectivity to smaller Indian airports and communities," an IndiGo statement quoting its President Aditya Ghosh said today.
Currently, the carrier has 142 aircraft and operates more than 950 flights a day.
"We have ordered 50 ATR aircraft. We will be getting 21 of these by January, 2019. We have identified three new destinations Tirupati, Vijaywada and Rajahmundry from Hyderabad to be added in our existing network," Ghosh, who is also the Whole Time Director, said in an interaction in New Delhi on Wednesday.
The company has already started taking bookings for Tirupati and Rajahmundry flights, a company official said.
The first ATR flight of IndiGo will depart from Hyderabad to Mangaluru on December 21 and the fares start from Rs 1,499. a company statement said.
On whether the decision to tap tier 2 and 3 cities was triggered by the government's Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), Ghosh had said it was just coincidence that company's plans and RCS came around the same time.
RCS seeks to connect unserved and under-served airports as well as make flying more affordable.
A company official said IndiGo has put in bids in the second round of RCS but the operations starting on December 21 would not be under it.
IndiGo remained tight lipped about the additional revenue that ATR operations will bring.
"We were in talks with IndiGo for last five years but serious discussions started early this year", Tom Anderson, Sr Vice President (Program and Customer Service) at ATR told reporters here.
Ghosh said the company was already planning to target cities where airports cannot physically land a narrow body aircraft.
"By taking delivery of this first ATR 72-600, we are now one step closer to the launch of our turbo-prop operations by the end of this year.
"We are excited at the opportunity of once again being able to redefine air travel in India by bringing the reliability and efficiency of IndiGo's operations to towns and regions in our country which so far have been devoid of reliable air service or have been subject to exorbitant air fares," the statement said.
The cost per seat in a 74-seater ATR is higher than a 180-seat narrow body air plane but it has to be seen in light of commensurate revenue that a platform bring and if it is higher than its a successful business model, Ghosh said during the interaction.
According to IndiGo, these planes also feature the most modern cabin interiors, specifically designed for ATR by Italian firm Giugiaro, with thinner seats, larger overhead bins and LED lightening for an optimal passenger experience.
The order of 50 ATR 72-600 by IndiGo is the biggest order from any airline in India, David Vargas, Head of Press and Editorials of ATR said.
"The turbo-props of ATR are listed USD 26.8 million a piece. However, bulk orders are priced differently," he said.
About the potential of regional aviation in India, he said the proportion of such flights is 12 per cent of total flights in Indian skies, which was way below the global average of 25 per cent.
He said one of the common complaint of turbo props being noisy has been handled in ATR 72-600s, introduced six years ago by the company, by tweaking the number of blades, their tuning and strengthening the fuselage.
The sound inside the cabin is 79 db which is way lower than any of his competitor, he said.
The aircraft was received on behalf of IndiGo by Captain Ashim Mittra, Vice President (Flight Operations). The airline said it expects to add 7 ATRs by March 2018.