Domestic airline SpiceJet on Friday said that it has grounded all three of its standard Boeing 737 freighter aircraft after the plane supplier discovered a potential defect. As of September 30, the airline had four freighter aircraft--three standard-body 737 and one 737-800 Boeing converted freighter.
These aircraft were converted to freighters by Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI). The potential defect was discovered during an internal examination of IAI's manufacturing facilities. SpiceJet informed the BSE that a defect has been found in the process used to manufacture 9G rigid barrier, which provides a lightweight solution for separating crew and cargo, installed on these aircraft.
"These aircraft will return to operations after regulatory clearance," it said. The airline was operating nine scheduled departures six days a week by the three freighter to Hong Kong from Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati and one domestic rotation connecting Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai.
The aircraft were operated by SpiceXpress, the cargo division of SpiceJet. SpiceXpress fleet increased to four aircraft during the September quarter with the induction of a 737-800 Boeing converted freighter (BCF).
The BCF was taken on lease from NGF Alpha Limited, a division of Spectre Cargo Solutions, a Texas-based aircraft trading and leasing company. Built on the next-generation 737 passenger airplane, the 737-800 BCF offers operators lower cost per payload tonne than older standard-body freighters and can carry up to 52,800 pounds (23.9 metric tonnes) of payload.
With the four freighter aircraft, the airline operated scheduled services on Mumbai – Sharjah - Mumbai, Delhi – Hanoi - Delhi, Bengaluru–HongKong–Kolkata-Bengaluru, Delhi–Mumbai-Delhi, Chennai–Hyderabad–Delhi–Mumbai–Bengaluru-Chennai sectors.
In addition, SpiceXpress also operated charters in the Gulf region and transported livestock to Sharjah from Mumbai and non-scheduled services on Delhi–Indore–Ahmedabad–Bengaluru-Delhi and Delhi–Hyderabad–Chennai–Kolkata-Delhi sectors.
In the winter 2019 schedule, SpiceXpress had also added Dhaka as a freighter destination operating Delhi-Kolkata-Hyderabad-Chennai route.
This development is another jolt for the airline which continues to incur higher expenses on account of grounding of its 13 B737 MAX aircraft.
The MAX planes were grounded worldwide in March after two fatal accidents involving the aircraft model and the re-certification process. Re-introduction of these aircraft was earlier expected to start in 2019, but now it has been pushed to 2020, CNBC-TV18 reported this on Monday.
The low-cost carrier posted a net loss of Rs 462.6 crore in the September quarter due to additional costs arising out of grounding of MAX aircraft and low yields in a seasonally weak quarter. During the quarter, the airline struggled with lower pricing power and had to incur a higher fuel cost as it used "sub-optimal" B737 NG aircraft which it acquired from the Jet Airways fleet whereas MAX would have provided the airline 20 percent more fuel efficiency. Fuel costs account for nearly 40 percent of an airline's expenditure in India.
First Published: IST