SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years

— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

I am confident that SP Guide Publications would continue to inform, inspire and influence.

— Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Indian Navy Chief

My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief

Smaller The Better

It is clear that the philosophy of Smaller the Better is perhaps the most viable option for airlines to improve the economy of operations and hence ensure better economic performance of the airlines

Issue: 11-2020By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By Embraer
E195, seen here, being operated by Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways taking off from Con Dao Island, a world heritage site. Importantly Japan Airlines, having understood the importance of fleet management, is employing its Embraer regional jets on domestic routes.

The CoronaVirus epidemic that is supposed to have originated from the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China in December 2019, spread rapidly across the globe affecting more than 200 countries across the globe. In fact, in early March this year, the focal point of the Coronavirus epidemic that is also referred to as COVID-19 Pandemic, shifted from China to Europe, with Italy being the worst affected nation in the world. Other nations in Europe including the United Kingdom (UK) were also badly affected. In the following month i.e. in April 2020, it was the United States of America (USA) that had also fallen prey to the COVID-19 Pandemic, took the lead with more than 40 million people, which is about 25 per cent of the population, being infected by the virus. What was more tragic was that by this time, there were more than 1.1 million fatalities in the USA. This was a clear indication that by this time, the focus of the COVID-19 Pandemic had definitely shifted from Europe to the American continent.

However, India was not to be left behind as it soon fell victim to the COVID-19 Pandemic and by the first week of May this year, there were around 60,000 cases that tested positive with the infection by the Coronavirus. And the number kept increasing as with a population of more than 1.3 billion, the second largest in the world, it was definitely an extremely challenging task for the government to control the spread of this disease. The rate at which the Coronavirus spread in this country of ours, can be gauged from the fact that by November this year, the number of infected persons in India has gone up to eighty seven lakh and there appears to be little hope of abatement of the Pandemic. The spread of the virus proved to be uncontrollable on account of the fact that there was neither a vaccine available to prevent infection nor was there any specific medicine approved by the appropriate authority, available in the market to treat a patient affected by this virus. The COVID-19 Pandemic was thus a major challenge for the government as well as for the people.


The only option before the government at the time when the COVID-19 Pandemic began to spread uncontrollably, was to impose a total lockdown that was implemented beginning on March 23 this year. This action by the government led to complete paralysis of all segments of the industry in the country which had a devastating impact on the national economy. There was near total ban on travel which included travel by air. One of the segments of the industry that was worst affected on account of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the resultant lockdown, was the Indian airline industry as there was near total shut down of commercial flights both domestic as well as international. This paralytic attack on the Indian airline industry threatened the very survival of the private carriers that were deprived of their only source of revenue generation. Fortunately, beginning at the first week of June this year, the government embarked on a plan to progressively lift the lockdown in phases with effect from June 08 this year. The first phase dubbed as “Unlock One” was indeed a bold step as the nation could not afford continued paralysis of the industrial segment of the national economy any longer. This decision by the government came as a much needed relief for the Indian airline industry.


Airlines across the globe have never faced a situation as debilitating and crippling as the one in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Indeed, this has been one of the most daunting challenges the airline industry the world over has ever faced. Airlines had never before experienced such a dramatic and sustained decline in air passenger demand that had a devastating impact on their capability to manage their finances.

One of the areas of focus in the exercise at fleet management during the COVID-19 Pandemic, is the size of the airliner employed for operations

Considering the plight of the Indian airline industry and especially of the private airlines, the government decided to undo the lockdown progressively and initially permitted flights to operate only in the domestic segment and that too with restrictions. Beginning with flights restricted to 33 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels, the government progressively permitted flights up to 75 per cent of pre COVID-19 levels by November 2020. But domestic operations are still nowhere close to the level cleared by the government. In the most recent announcement, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has approved 12,983 domestic flights per week in the winter schedule from October 25 till March 27, 2021, which is around 55 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 levels.


As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to rage unabated, the demand for air travel also continues to linger at notably low levels compared to capacity. As these are turbulent times for the Indian airline industry, it is necessary for all carriers, especially those in the private sector, to re-examine their fleet management to reduce expenditure in order to restore financial viability of their operations to the extent possible and enhance their chances of survival. One of the areas of focus in the exercise at fleet management during the COVID-19 Pandemic, is the size of the aircraft employed as it has relevance as well as notable impact on the economy of operations which is essential to ensure survivability.

An important aspect that airlines must not lose sight of is that despite the fact that the aircraft of large size that are capable of carrying larger number of passengers and over longer distances, when compared with smaller airliners such as the regional jets, the large airliners are more expensive both in flight operations as also in their maintenance, repair and overhaul. Under normal circumstances and work environment unlike the one that exists today, airlines enjoy better flexibility by using a mix of aircraft, operating larger wide-body airliners such as the Boeing 777, Airbus A330 and A380 airliners on ultra-long routes and deploy the relatively smaller airliners such as the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320 class on shorter, but still long routes. Under these circumstances, aircraft in the category of regional jets are reserved exclusively for very short routes. Compared to the above mentioned large size airliners, the much smaller regional jets such as the Embraer E175-E2 or even the slightly larger Embraer E195-E2 with seating capacity that extends from 66 to 124, the Bombardier Canadian Regional Jets series CRJ700, 900 and 1,000 with seating capacity extending from 66 to 104, the Antonov An-148 with seating capacity of 58 to 99 passengers and the Sukhoi Superjet 100 with seating capacity of 87 to 108, are more economical to operate. This aspect of management of the fleet in these challenging times, appears to have been well understood by Japan Airlines, a major customer of Embraer E-Jets. This airline is employing its Embraer regional jets on domestic routes on which, under normal operating conditions, Boeing 737s or other airliners with equivalent capacity used to be operated. However, as the demand for seats on account of depressed air travel across the globe is considerably lower, the best option is to operate the small size airliners such as regional jets wherever possible, for better economy in operations.


Aircraft fleets consisting of regional jets that are operated by the low cost carriers across the world, will be better suited to the new market environment especially in the in Asia-Pacific region as travel restrictions are progressively lifted. With the likelihood of the intensity of the Coronavirus reducing over a period of time, the demand for short haul flights in the domestic markets will rise at a rate faster than the demand for long haul international travel. Under these circumstances, the smaller regional jets will be more economically viable to operate and hence ought to be the preferred choice by a majority of airlines across the world, at least in the foreseeable future. It is clear that the philosophy of Smaller the Better is perhaps the most viable option for airlines to improve the economy of operations and hence ensure better economic performance of the airlines.