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Friday, August 20, 1999

Jet Airway's plan to acquire 5 aircraft runs into rough weather 

Ranvir Nayar  
Paris, Aug 19: Jet Airways' plans of adding five ATR 72-500 aircraft into its fleet have run into problems. Jet's troubles range from delays in finalising the financing agreements for the new aircraft to the fact that some of its ticketing agents in Europe are having a tough time convincing travellers about the reliability of the ATRs.

The delivery of the first of the five ATR 72-500 aircraft ordered by Jet has been delayed. Since the gap between the aircraft delivery and the time of its being put into operation was pegged at under a month, this could upset the schedules of the country's largest domestic airline in the private sector.

Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal had announced at a press conference during an air show held near Paris in June that the first of the aircraft would be delivered by the third week of September and the aircraft would be pressed into operation by October 15.

In fact, Jet Airways has already begun taking bookings for the routes that the new aircraft are supposed to service.Hence, any delay in the delivery could have serious financial implications for the airline.

A Jet Airways official said the schedule had already been upset by a delay in obtaining approval of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for the new aircraft.

However, some independent sources said the problem stemmed from delays in tying up the financing agreements for the aircraft. The new ATR aircraft are being acquired by Jet under an operating lease through Aircraft International Renting Ltd, which has Credit Agricole Indosuez and the TAT Group as its major shareholders.

However, Jet officials maintained the delay would have no bearing on its operations. "We are not really sure when exactly we will have the aircraft. It could be late September or early October," said one official.

But Jet will be forced to modify its earlier schedule of training its pilots on the new aircraft to ensure that there would be no further delays in pressing the aircraft into operation, despite the late delivery. Thiscould also lead to ATR sending its own flight instructors to fly with Jet Airways pilots in India.

A senior ATR official said none of the safety-related issues would be compromised, despite the delays. "Jet Airways is an established brand name in India. It is ATR that is making an entry into that market and hence it is our image on the line and there is no way that we would compromise on that," he said.

According to the original schedule, nearly 40 pilots and co-pilots were to have been trained at the ATR facility in Toulouse, southern France. Said ATR sales director, Jerome Charieras, "As per the conditions of the Indian DGCA, we have modified our simulators to suit the Indian flying conditions and we have added to our computer database some small Indian airports where the ATRs will be used."

Charieras said the first group of pilots is already undergoing training, which commenced on August 9 and is expected to last four weeks. The other groups are also expected to start training soon, hesaid.

Another problem facing Jet Airways is the travellers' perception of the aircraft as ticketing agents across the world have started accepting bookings for flights from October 15. The ATRs will form the nucleus of a modern regional aircraft fleet for the Jet Airways domestic feeder network.

The ATRs will be deployed on several routes linking the Indian metros and minimetros to the hinterland. Some of the routes that will see the ATRs plying include Delhi-Udaipur-Aurangabad- Udaipur-Delhi, Bangalore-Hubli-Bangalore and Delhi-Indore-Delhi. While the ATRs will be used largely on new rutes, they will also replace the Boeings that Jet currently uses on routes like Mumbai-Mangalore-Mumbai. Some ticketing agents in the European market admit that when they describe the aircraft type to the customers, most travellers express doubts about the safety and proven reliability of the ATRs.

To counter this lack of information, ATR and Jet will launch a media blitz in India, targetted primarily at the businesstraveller. The two will also use the fact that 140 ATRs currently fly in the US market and most of the regional airlines in Eruope already use the aircraft, which is said to have one of the best levels of reliability and economy in its class.

India Abroad News Service

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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