Three months after airline industry-wide consolidation started taking hold and fares began moving up, a combination of the monsoon low season and rising fares have resulted in falling load factors for India's low-cost carriers.
Load factor is the average number of people flown per flight. The steepest fall in load factor is reported by the country's largest budget airline, Air Deccan, which has seen its load factors dip from a high of 87.3 per cent in January to 65.7 per cent in July, the last month for which the data is available.
This is the largest dip for any Indian airline in that period. Deccan's market share of 20.6 per cent in January has also fallen to 16.1 per cent. It seems like now that those one-rupee tickets are gone, so have some of the low-budget passengers. To be fair though, weak load factors are being felt across the industry, though on a smaller scale.
SpiceJet, saw its load factor come down by nearly 5 per cent, and IndiGo by 1 per cent over the same period. Jet Lite, earlier Air Sahara, saw its load factor fall from 72.6 per cent to 68.3 per cent. GoAir was the only budget airline to increase its share, by 2 per cent over January.
Among full-service airlines, Jet Airways saw its load factor come down from 73.4 per cent in January to 66.5 per cent in July, while Kingfisher Airlines dropped from 67.3 per cent to 63.6 percent. Indian Airlines was the only full-service carrier to improve its load factor, 61.7 per cent to 66.2 per cent.
Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) figures show that full-service carriers marginally increased their market share in the last few months. The market share of Indian went up to 20.5 per cent in July, compared to 19.8 per cent in June. Market leader Jet increased its share to 22.7 per cent in July, compared to 22 per cent in June. Kingfisher increased its market share to 13 per cent in July, compared to 12.9 per cent in June.
Until June, Air Deccan, which has 350 daily flights across 65 locations, was offering the lowest fares in the industry. Sometimes, fares were as low as one rupee, plus some Rs1,000 in taxes and surcharges. This tempted upper-class railway passengers to switch to a flight.
But, after United Breweries (Holdings) Ltd - which operates Kingfisher Airlines - took a controlling stake in Deccan Aviation in May, the carrier started raising fares, by around 8 to 10 per cent. In September, when the airline announced tickets at "special festive fares", the one-rupee tickets were noticeably missing.
Are fewer cheap tickets and higher fares driving customers back to the railways? In the past eight months, an additional eight million passengers flew domestic routes in India, compared with the same period last year.
Domestic airlines carried 24.85 million passengers during January-July period, registering a growth of 37.81 per cent over the same period last year. This shows that consumers don't seem to be going back to the railways.
Jet Airways and budget carrier JetLite, is the country's largest airline group by passengers flown, with a 29.3 per cent market share, followed by the Kingfisher Airlines-Air Deccan combination at 28.6 per cent. State-owned Indian had a 19.8 per cent share of the market, with the rest shared the other carriers.