In January 2018, IndiGo – India’s largest passenger airline – began to seek regulatory approval to operate flights from New Delhi to London, Paris, Madrid and Hong Kong. Now, it looks like IndiGo’s aspirations may be one step closer to reality.
The budget carrier, whose operations revolve primarily around short haul flights within the Indian subcontinent, has reportedly secured a slot at London Gatwick airport from the beginning of 2018’s winter season.
IndiGo is planning to launch the new route with its Airbus A321neo aircraft, scheduled for delivery this November, which will be configured with over 200 seats, sources say.
However, there is an added complication. IndiGo does not have any Airbus A321neoLR aircraft on order – the variant other airlines such as Primera have used to facilitate their foray into long-haul flying. Instead, the budget carrier has only ordered the standard A321neo, which offers significantly diminished range. This, coupled with a dense seating configuration, means it is clear that IndiGo will not be able to operate its new Delhi-London service non-stop.
Istanbul has been proposed as a potential refuelling stop for IndiGo’s new route to London. Under this scenario, the airline would be able to carry passengers between Delhi and Istanbul – in addition to passengers bound for Gatwick.
However, routing via Istanbul would add around 200 miles and inconvenient extra travel time, when compared to rival’s Delhi-London flights. It is also uncertain as to whether the airline would have fifth-freedom rights to carry passengers solely between Turkey and the British capital, removing an opportunity to top up revenue.
Regardless of whether IndiGo launches flights this winter, a new trend of low-cost Indian airlines setting their sights on Europe is evident. Rival to IndiGo, SpiceJet, has previously voiced its ambition to launch long-haul budget flights to Europe and has preemptively secured slots for Delhi-Manchester flights on numerous occasions.
Additionally, Singapore Airlines subsidiary – Scoot – wants to operate its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners on Singapore-India-Europe routes, utilising fifth-freedom rights (the freedom that allows airlines to fly from their home country to a second nation and then carry passengers from there to a third nation).
“We can look at Singapore-Delhi/Mumbai/Chennai/Kolkata-Europe/Gulf flights. We can fly to places like Zurich, Paris, Manchester (not London), Abu Dhabi and Bahrain”
-indian manager of scoot, Bharath Mahadevan
Of course, Air India and Jet Airways would be badly affected by the advent of low-cost, long-haul flights. The cost structure of both airlines is simply too high to compete with fares offered by the likes of IndiGo and their profit margins would likely be slashed. For low-cost airlines, the road to long-haul flying could be fraught with challenges too – Primera’s disastrous transatlantic launch proved this. However, with LCCs controlling more than 65% of India’s domestic market, the trend towards budget flights to Europe is unstoppable.
Featured image: Devendra Kulkarni