Shree Airlines, a private airline in Nepal, has grounded three jet-engined Bombardier CRJs used for commercial flights for several months now. Citing sheer operational costs, Shree Airlines has stopped flying two Bombardier CRJ-700s and one Bombardier CRJ200ER aircraft for more than three months.
The carrier gradually declined air services with these regional jetliners after the costs associated with their operations exceeded as compared to turbo-powered regional jetliner De Havilland Canada DHC-8. On the other hand, Shree Airlines has increased the number of Bombardier DHC Q400 to fill the gap. Now, the airline is in talks with several companies to give these grounded jets on lease. Although it has ongoing discussions with a few businesses, the final decision has not been made yet.
Change in fleet strategy
Shree Airlines has adopted a fleet change strategy to save costs and increase profit. Nepal has short flight distances within domestic regions. The longest flight duration within the domestic route is of Dhangadi, which takes an approximate flight time of 44-45 minutes. CRJ jetliners have a minimum flight duration of 1 hour. Although they have a high cruise speed, they burn fuels accordingly. So, it is more expensive for Shree Airlines to operate jetliners in short routes. The airline management is trying to get rid of these jetliners to make its operations profitable.
According to the company’s spokesperson Anil Manandhar, the airline is expanding its fleet of turboprop aircraft to minimize regular costs. There’s a demand for big aircraft in the commercial air market. That’s why Shree came to a conclusion to bring 80-seater aircraft, he added.
Shree Airlines intends to use its jet aircraft in international destinations more than domestic ones. In fact, one year before, the airline management made plans not to phase out these airplanes immediately but on a calculative basis. It started finding alternatives for CRJ700s and CRJ200s on domestic routes when it experienced losses due to short flight times and more holding time in the sky.
Diversification into fixed-wing operations
In 2017, Shree Airlines brought two 50-seater Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ-200) aircraft and a 70-seater CRJ700 to intensify competition in the domestic airline industry and diversify into fixed-wing operations. The carrier got its second CRJ700 registered 9N-AMO in 2018. The airline submitted a fleet expansion plan to the Tourism Ministry intending to tap into Nepal’s expanding air travel market in 2016.
As a new player, the airline became the second carrier in Nepal to start commercial passenger services with Bombardier aircraft. It sought to benefit passengers by intensifying the airfare war to consolidate its market share. Shree Airlines had pinned hopes to transform regional networks by operating four regional jets sharing benefits of common elements to provide flexibility and meet the unique requirements of each market. It had also aimed to launch international flights to India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka with these aircraft.
CRJ-200 and CRJ-700 aircraft can fly at the maximum altitude of 41000 feet. But, they have been flying short distances at the altitude of 26000 feet in Nepal. Experts say that these aircraft must fly at least 1 hour at the elevation of 34000 feet to be commercially viable as fuel consumption lowers with the increase in height for such airplanes. Ex-pilots have also pointed out the difficulties of operating jetliners in Nepalese airspace in a sustainable manner.
The fleet of Shree Airlines
Shree Airlines has two jet-powered CRJ200s, two CRJ700s, and three turbo-powered Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s to launch passenger services at different urban destinations, including Biratnagar Dhangadi, Nepalgunj, Bhadrapur, and Bhairahawa.
Shree Airlines has said that it will welcome one more turboprop soon. The carrier received the delivery of its first Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 in 2019 after obtaining permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to purchase aircraft in 2018. The latest Q400-8 arrived in January 2022 from Austria via India.
Turbo-powered regional jetliner De Havilland Canada DHC-8 is well-known for improved cruise performance and low operational costs. It has a cruise speed of 369 knots, a maximum altitude of 25000 feet, and a total seating capacity of 80 people. These turboprops are well-suited to the topography of Nepal, and they consume less fuel and have fewer maintenance costs compared to jet airplanes.
Shree Airlines will expand its flight destinations to Surkhet and Tumlingtar with new aircraft after receiving approval from CAAN. Incorporated in 1999, it also operates helicopter services and is a proud operator of 6 Mil Mi-17 helicopters and 2 Eurocopter AS350 B3es.