Saunf and Tulsi are airborne and on their way to India; Heeng and a dozen others, including Mirchi, Elaichi and Tejpatta would follow in the coming weeks and months. This potpourri is low-cost airline SpiceJet's new Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprop fleet. All 15 aircraft would bear the names of Indian spices.
SpiceJet plans to use these aircraft to provide cheaper aviation opportunities in India’s fast-growing smaller cities and towns.
Bombardier Senior Vice-president (sales and marketing), Chet Fuller, handed over a ceremonial key of the new aircraft to SpiceJet Chairman Kalanithi Maran, his wife, and Chief Executive Officer Neil Mills at the Canadian aerospace company’s facility near Toronto on Friday. A few minutes later, Saunf took off, with a crew of three pilots and an engineer. A similar team is flying Tulsi back home. As the aircraft is a short-haul plane, the flight would have a number of touchdowns – in Goose Bay, Canada; Reykjavik, Iceland; Bournemouth, UK; Valletta, Malta; Luxor, Egypt; and Muscat, Oman before reaching New Delhi on August 30.
SpiceJet would use the turboprops in its new regional service scheduled to start on September 21. While Maran didn't answer any questions, he said the new aircraft “will totally change the lives of people in Tier-II and Tier-III cities in India by making flying more affordable”. He also said the Smart Parts agreement between Bombardier and SpiceJet was evidence that the airline planned to be a long-term operator of the aircraft.
Mills said initial bookings for the Q400 flights were “encouraging”. Speaking to Business Standard, he said the delivery of the first batch of aircraft had been delayed, as SpiceJet was awaiting regulatory approvals in India for financing the deal. The $450-million order is being financed by Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada (EDC). “Getting approvals in India is a long, uncertain and challenging process,” said Mills, adding EDC had been very “patient and understanding”.
Under the deal, SpiceJet also has the option of ordering 15 more Q400 NextGen aircraft. Mills said over the next six months, the airline would decide whether to exercise the option after tracking the performance of the aircraft on their regional routes. He said the decision would be based more on the actual performance of the planes, rather than the business generated on the routes in the short term.
Each turboprop would fly over 11 hours every day on flights not exceeding two hours. “We will fly them hard,” said Mills, “That’s the whole point of these aircraft.” Bombardier officials say the speed of their turboprops can be compared to to regional jets, enabling operators to get more flying hours per day out of their fleet.
A tour of Bombardier’s facility near Toronto revealed a number of SpiceJet’s Q400 NextGens in various stages of construction, testing and inspection. Besides the first two that were handed over on Friday, two more would be delivered on Wednesday. SpiceJet expects to receive 11 aircraft by next March, with the order to be completed by July. The fleet would also mark Bombardier’s mainstream debut in India’s rapidly-growing market.