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SpiceJet eyes opportunity in adversity; big expansion plans in air cargo biz underway

Article submitted by: SpiceJet – New TIACA Trustee Member

From being at the edge of a precipice to becoming India’s favourite passenger airline and largest air cargo operator, it is not without reason that SpiceJet is likened to the proverbial phoenix and lauded as one of the greatest turnaround stories in aviation industry. It seems the airline company has now made overcoming adversities into a habit with its inherent resilience shining through.

It is well documented how the aviation industry suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, what is not widely known is how SpiceJet braved the turbulence when some biggest global airlines collapsed during the pandemic and winged its way to become an astounding growth story by its sheer grit, determination, strong leadership, vision and innovation. Today, the airline is the country’s largest air cargo operator and has charted some serious growth plans, including offering door-to-door delivery for B2B clients.

SpiceJet is currently the only domestic Indian airline with a dedicated fleet of freighters. Having these assets proved to be a strategic move by the senior management, and these certainly helped the airline breathe through the pandemic choke. SpiceJet had launched SpiceXpress, the airline’s dedicated cargo arm, in 2018, when uncertainties loomed large on the viability of cargo operations in India.

On his turnaround journey six years back, Mr Singh had commented, “You need guts, belief and the ability to look at the larger picture. Understanding the gut of the business is essential because you cannot tackle the problems with a superfluous view.” A man with a vision, Mr. Singh credited to have revived the airline in 2014, seems to have got his gut right this time too.

The airline has operated more than 7000 cargo flights since the lockdown began and has carried over 50,000 tonnes of cargo. This is more than double of all domestic airlines combined together. The move seems to have played a critical role in insulating the airline against the shocks of the pandemic. When the primary source of revenue from passenger operations completely dried up for most airlines worldwide, SpiceJet’s cargo business helped it maintain adequate cash flows to cover cost of operations. Besides, when some of the biggest airlines around the world announced job cuts, SpiceJet witnessed zero retrenchment.

Evidently, SpiceJet has been pursuing its cargo business with all seriousness. Since 2018, SpiceJet has developed the capability of providing door-to-door deliveries to over 15,000 pin codes across India; the lockdown only providing further impetus to its growth. The airline company is providing doorstep deliveries to pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, diagnostic centres across the country. It, thus, helped maintain continuous supply chains for ventilators, face masks, sanitisers, and essential surgical supplies through the pandemic.

While medical supplies formed a large part of the cargo movement, industries including perishables, electronic goods, technology products and cold chain pharmaceuticals have also been actively using the services of the airline. Additionally, the airline also contributed in a big way to support the government’s ‘Krishi Udaan’ and ‘Marine Krishi Udaan’ initiatives lending a helping hand to Indian farmers and fishermen, by carrying a record 9500 tonnes of shrimp and farm produce during the lockdown.

Under the stewardship of Mr. Singh, SpiceJet has grown the cargo operations through exclusive partnerships with multinational organisations, freight forwarders, cargo agents as well as business associates. “A country, as big as ours, definitely needed a big cargo operator. There was so much to be done. It has taken SpiceJet a lot of time and energy and, of course, a lot of investment in setting up the infrastructure on the ground and making SpiceXpress what it is today. It’s only recently that the national focus has shifted to cargo flights but we have been doing well for some time now”, Mr. Singh explained.

In March, SpiceJet signed an agreement to lease with GMR Hyderabad Aviation SEZ Limited (GHASL). Under the partnership, GHASL will be constructing a facility for SpiceJet to carry out the warehousing, distribution and trading activity within the Free Trade Warehousing Zone of multi-product SEZ-GMR Aerospace & Industrial Park.

In the same month, the Company signed a tripartite MoU with GMR Hyderabad International Airport (GHIAL) and Ras-Al-Khaimah International Airport, UAE. This MoU aims to promote the export of agro products, including fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, livestock, dairy, and seafood products from India to United Arab Emirates and neighbouring countries via Hyderabad.

SpiceJet, in a fine example of innovation, has pressed its passenger aircraft into service for cargo-on-seat operations. In fact, SpiceJet was India’s first airline to operate a cargo-on-seat flight – carrying cargo in both passenger cabin and belly space on April 7. Addressing the increased demand amid the lockdown, the company converted six Q400 aircraft into freighters and further expanded its cargo fleet.

The company’s international cargo network now spans 44 international destinations. The airline has been actively using Ras Al-Khaimah airport as a hub for its cargo operations. The company recently started operations of wide-body cargo aircraft – a huge game-changer – that is being primarily used for transporting cargo goods and essential supplies on long-haul routes including to destinations in Europe, CIS and Africa. SpiceJet now operates two wide-body cargo planes for its long-haul cargo operations.

On operating the Airbus A340, Mr. Singh said, “We are confident that our long-haul cargo flights would further help boost Indian businesses, farmers, and pharma companies – providing them with seamless access to newer markets.”

The quote once again proves that here is one company that deeply cares about India.