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Kingfisher Airlines re-aligns international operations and fleet to contain losses

The financial woes at Kingfisher Airlines continue. Despite carrying the maximum number of domestic passengers, over dues are piling up. In some cases cheques issued by the airline are bouncing, salary and other cost cutting measures are making employees like pilots leave the airline to join competitors.

This photo from Digital Airliners on Flickr encapsulates the three stages of Kingfisher’s crumbling international dreams and the sorry end of it’s much awaited Airbus A340-500s meant for ultra long haul non-stop Bangalore to San Francisco operations.

The three stages of Kingfisher Airline's Airbus 340-500s


At Toulouse we can see one of the three A340-500s sold to Arik Air in the Arik livery. Next to it is a “white tail”, industry jargon for a plane abandoned by its buying airline, and next to it is one still painted in Kingfisher Airlines livery.

As oil prices sky-rocketed in 2008 Indian aviation collapsed. Kingfisher did not take delivery of it’s ordered five A340-500s. Three were sold to Arik Air of Nigeria and two languished at Toulouse eventually becoming “white tails”. Even narrow body A321s ordered by Kingfisher were diverted to other airlines like Turkish THY.

In times of high demand and long delivery lead times the ordering airline demands, and does receive a premium when diverting its aircraft deliveries to another buyer, but in these times of distress I am sure Kingfisher has made no money, and most likely lost money.

The Mint newspaper is reporting that Kingfisher Airlines has finally managed to sell off the remaining two Airbus A340-500s that were never taken from Airbus.

Aircraft maker Airbus SAS has sold two A340 passenger planes meant for delivery to Kingfisher Airlines Ltd to government buyers in West Asia, an executive at the European plane manufacturer said.

Kingfisher has taken delivery of five Airbus A330-200s. VT-VJK, VT-VJL, VT-VJN, VT-VJO, VT-VJP, three of which it is using on its services to London Heathrow from Bangalore and Mumbai. With improvement in their slot timings at Heathrow, Kingfisher will need only two and can keep one as a standby.

It is already in advanced talks with Arik Air to wet lease (aircraft and crew) these two A330s from the third quarter of 2009. At the same time it has initiated talks with Jet Airways for code sharing of flights.

Kingfisher has also launched international services between Kolkata and Dhaka using an ATR72-212A (ATR72-500) turbo-prop aircraft via it’s low cost Kingfisher Red service.

Kingfisher has commenced services on the Bangalore Colombo and Chennai Colombo routes using it’s narrow body A320 fleet, and the Colombo Bangalore service connects well to it’s Bangalore London service. Sources indicate Kingfisher carried about 2,766 passengers between Colombo and London via Bangalore in the last four months or about 22 passenger per day. In the same period Kingfisher has carried about 6,200 origin and destination passengers between Bangalore and London. An average of only 50 passengers per flight is too low to justify an A330 operation.

As demonstrated by the Colombo experience, Kingfisher desperately needs to build connecting traffic by commencing operations between Bangalore and Bangkok and other ASEAN destinations like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta to feed it’s London service and it needs to build connections beyond Heathrow to North America to create a greater pull at the same time.

However, repeated deferrals of announced international operations like Hong Kong and Singapore, Bangkok, and Dubai has left industry watchers including myself so sceptical that we do not even report the announced launch of a new route by Kingfisher till the aircraft actually flies.

Most analysts agree that the on-going financial woes are largely responsible for these repeated deferrals but the airline needs to get a move on. Either expand international services or withdraw completely.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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