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India’s Only Boeing 737 MAX Operator: SpiceJet’s Fleet In 2021

Indian low-cost carrier SpiceJet is the second largest LCC in the country after IndiGo. Over the last few years, the budget carrier has seen some fluctuation in its fleet numbers – from a peak of more than 120 airplanes before the COVID pandemic to less than 100 currently. Like most low-cost airlines, SpiceJet avoids a diverse aircraft fleet to ease operations and keep costs down.

SpiceJet is India’s largest Boeing 737 operator and the only carrier in the country with the 737 MAX aircraft in its fleet. Photo: Boeing

Two aircraft types

SpiceJet is the biggest operator of the Boeing 737 airplane in India and the only carrier to have the 737 MAX series in its fleet. The single-aisle twinjet serves most of its cross-country routes and some short-range international flights to the Middle East and South East Asia.

The carrier relies on the Dash 8-400 airplanes for regional connectivity, with more than 30 in its fleet. SpiceJet has stuck to the two aircraft type model to keep operations smooth and cost-effective. Occasionally, its fleet has been peppered with guest appearances from other airplane types such as the Airbus A340, A320, and A321, but their stint with the airline has been short-lived.

According to ch-aviation, SpiceJet has a total of 97 airplanes:

60 Boeing 737s (5 B737-700, 38 B737-800, 4 B737-900(ER), 13 B737-8 MAX)

32 Dash 8-400

5 converted 737 freighters for its cargo arm SpiceXpress

SpiceJet Q400
For regional operations, the LCC relies on a fleet of Dash 8-400. Photo: Getty Images.

Fleet reduction

SpiceJet was doing fairly well a year before the pandemic, posting a record profit in the second quarter of 2019. The budget carrier added 42 aircraft to its fleet within a year, including some 737s of the former full-service carrier Jet Airways. By early 2020, SpiceJet was operating its largest fleet size of 121 airplanes.

In February 2020, due to the grounding of its MAX airplanes and to meet passenger demands, the carrier even wet-leased two Airbus A320s from Bulgaria. At the time, with the uncertainty over MAX’s return and with 737s becoming more expensive to lease, the carrier even considered pivoting towards the A320 family of airplanes for future growth.

However, it was all a different story just a few months later, with COVID-19 restrictions devastating the airline industry. Within months, many 737s left the carrier’s fleet, with its total aircraft numbers falling below 100 eventually.

SpiceJet 737 Getty
With COVID-induced travel restrictions, SpiceJet saw a significant drop in its fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Thankfully, the carrier cashed in on the rising demand for cargo operations during the pandemic, but even that was not enough to pull SpiceJet out of troubled waters.

Boeing 737 MAX

When India banned MAX operations in March 2019, SpiceJet had to ground all 13 MAXs in its fleet immediately. With an average age of just under three years, the carrier’s MAX airplanes had accumulated a little over 6,300 hours cumulatively until the ban.

The airline is also one of the largest MAX customers globally, with more than 100 on order, and plans to rely on the type for its future growth. Ever since the grounding, SpiceJet has asked Boeing for compensation in millions.

India’s Only Boeing 737 MAX Operator: SpiceJet’s Fleet In 2021
The carrier was planning to bring back its MAX airplanes after India lifted the MAX ban. But the type’s return has been postponed again. Photo: Boeing

When the DGCA lifted the ban on the MAX in the last week of August, SpiceJet began preparing the grounded planes to fly again and started training its pilots ahead of flight resumption. However, the carrier missed its scheduled date of October 5th to bring back the MAX, and the plane’s return has now been pushed back without a new date.

Clearly, SpiceJet has taken an enormous hit from the COVID pandemic. With a reduction in fleet size and mounting losses, the carrier has brought down its 2021 winter flight capacity by 30% compared to 2019.

Here’s hoping for better days for SpiceJet as the aviation world begins to pick up the pieces in a post-COVID world.