Hyderabad flies high as regional aviation hub

Hyderabad: After taking off as a regional operations hub with no frills carrier SpiceJet making it the first base for its Bombardier Q400 turboprop operations in 2011, Hyderabad's aviation prospects got second wind on Thursday with leading low cost carrier IndiGo kicking off its ATR operations from the city.
IndiGo has decided to make Hyderabad its first ATR operations hub to improve connectivity to tier-II and III cities, with its maiden ATR flight taking off from Hyderabad to Mangalore.

What's more, national carrier Air India not only operates ATR flights out of Hyderabad to destinations like Raipur, Bhopal, Combatore, Chennai, Pune, Goa, Vizag and Vijayawada, it has also made the city its base for India's first and sole ATR flight simulator for pilot training at its Central Training Establishment, further propelling the city into a preferred regional connectivity hub.

"Earlier, pilots had to travel abroad for ATR training as India did not have an ATR flight simulator. But now, with Air India bringing the latest ATR simulator to its Hyderabad CTE, even IndiGo is in talks with CTE for training its turboprop aircraft pilots here," said an Air India source, adding that it is a win-win situation for both as it not only means optimum utilisation of capacity for CTE but also means lower training costs for airlines.

Incidentally, Jet Airways, which has a fleet of 15 ATR 72-500s (66 seaters) and three ATR 72-600s (72-seater) is reportedly been in parleys with regional carrier TruJet for leasing out its entire ATR fleet to the Hyderabad-based LCC.

TruJet already operates to 12 destinations like Aurangabad, Bellary, Bengaluru, Chennai, Cuddapah, Goa, Mumbai, Mysuru, Nanded, Rajahmundry, Tirupati and Vijayawada from Hyderabad with its fleet of four leased ATRs and is looking at beefing up its fleet further by leasing three more ATRs by March 2018, said TruJet managing director Vankayalapati Umesh.

According to Umesh, while TruJet has most of the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana airports covered, it plans to fly to Vizag too from Hyderabad, which is its main hub.

What perhaps has propelled carriers to go full throttle with their regional connectivity plans is the push from the central government with its Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme. Under the regional connectivity scheme, the government attempts to provide connectivity to remote areas and enhance access to under-served regions.

While at the macro level one can credit the government with encouraging carriers to fly regional, at the micro level, Hyderabad's central location, seismically safe zone and modern airport infrastructure that provides room for further expansion has proved to be a major draw.

"Hyderabad is very strategically located in the heart of the country and gives a unique opportunity to service south, north east, north and West with hour and two hour flights," said Sanjay Kumar, chief commercial officer, IndiGo, elaborating on the reasons for Hyderabad being a runaway hit with carriers looking to step up regional connectivity.
With bigger aircraft not viable for servicing regional destinations, it is smaller turboprop aircraft like ATRs and Q400s that are being lapped up by airlines to cater to the tier II and III markets.
While Spicejet already operates 22 of its 78-seater Q400s across the country, of which six are operated out of Hyderabad, it has placed an order for another 50 Q400s with Canadian aerospace biggie Bombardier.
IndiGo, which commenced its ATR operations from Hyderabad with one aircraft on Thursday, too has placed a term sheet for 50 ATRs. While it plans to have a base of four ATRs in Hyderabad connecting the city with Tirupati, Rajahmundry and Vijayawada by February 2018, it expects to have a pan-India fleet of 21 ATRs by December 2018.

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