IndiGo’s success can be attributed to a combination of the management’s vision and strategy, its obsession with controlling costs and a reliable experience for customers. Aditya Ghosh tells Arindam Majumder how the company’s structural advantages enable it to remain profitable across business cycles. Edited excerpts:
Besides your low-cost model and focus on running a tight ship, what other factors explain your consistent performance year after year?
While our profitability and growth have been driven by a disciplined execution of low-cost carrier principles, we have also created certain structural advantages in our model which result in competitive advantage for us. We are the domestic market leader in India and provide connectivity to a large number of airports with a fleet of 129 aircraft, with over 850 flights a day.
While we continue to add new destinations, we also strengthen the density of our network by adding flights in our existing key markets in a sustainable and profitable manner. Many of the cities we fly to are smaller cities which hitherto didn’t have enough air connectivity and certainly not at the affordable price point that is available today. We aim to provide courteous, hassle-free and affordable service to our passengers. Besides these competitive advantages, we have some structural advantages which enable us to remain profitable across business cycles.
How has the single-aircraft model benefited you?
The single type of airframe within our current fleet helps us reduce our expenses related to maintenance, operation, crew training, as well as manage crew rosters efficiently. We offer a single class of economy service, which allows our A320 aircraft to have the maximum seating capacity of 180 seats. Unlike most full-service carriers, we do not offer a frequent flyer programme, free lounges or include food and beverages in our ticket price for non-corporate passengers. These items have helped to further reduce our cost base. It also means that the customer is not left guessing about the type of experience they can expect from us. It’s a consistent, simple and reliable product that customers have come to love.
How do you see the aviation market in India?
We see a huge opportunity to serve the people of this country. We are fortunate to be operating out of India which is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing air travel markets and is touted to become the third-largest aviation market by 2020 and the largest by 2030. India is also one of the least penetrated aircraft markets in the world with only around 300 commercial planes flying domestically for a population of 1.2 billion. Even countries like Indonesia and Philippines have three or four times the aircraft density of India. This leads to a mismatch of supply and demand, leading to high fares which are often beyond the reach of the common man. This is why we are so obsessed with having a low-cost structure which translates into low fares for the common man of the country and profitability for us.
Aviation is considered a risky and regulated sector. What gives you the confidence to place such large aircraft orders?
Our firm orders for 100 A320 aircraft in June 2005, 180 A320neo aircraft in June 2011 and 250 A320neo aircraft in August 2015 were each the largest single order of aircraft by number from Airbus at the time of the order, according to Airbus. We have taken delivery of all 100 aircraft under our 2005 order as of November 2014, about two years ahead of the initially scheduled final delivery date. Adding aircraft into our existing fleet on a month-on-month basis has become the natural choice to meet India’s growing flying needs. India is a huge market and we are confident that Indian domestic market will continue to grow in line with the overall economic growth.
Why haven’t competitors been able to emulate the IndiGo model?
I cannot comment on what our competitors can do or cannot do. But I think simply put, it is not one element but a series of elements when strung together that make IndiGo a unique proposition. So while the competition may successfully or unsuccessfully copy some of the things we stand for, no one has been able to replicate our advantages in their entirety. From day one, our biggest obsession has been to prove that “low cost” does not imply “low quality”. We have defined our business boundaries by articulating what we stand for and who we serve. IndiGo stands for “on time”, “courteous service/hassle free”, and “low fare” — these qualities define everything we do. These three principles are a guideline for everything we do at all levels. We thought about all this at the time of inception and have embedded this into our business model, so that these attributes also scale up as we grow.
What keeps you focused? What target do you set for a team which has been so successful?
We are an economy product, and we aim to be better than the best amongst low-cost carriers.
Managing cost invariably becomes the key focus, and will always be. Some of the focus areas include better resource (including ground handling) and asset utilisation; the sole objective of the airline is to keep internal costs low and run an efficient airline that would allow us to remain profitable and yet provide low fares consistently.
We are the largest domestic passenger airline in India and we will continue to focus on three simple things: flying planes on time; keeping the whole experience from booking the ticket to collecting the bags, courteous and hassle free; and finally sticking to our religion of offering low fares.