IndiGo, SpiceJet and Air India continue to aspire to fly to London & other UK airports

In January 2019, I wrote about IndiGo getting slots at London Gatwick airport for a single daily Delhi-London Gatwick flight. Even SpiceJet had secured a few slots and some slots were waitlisted for a couple of routes like London Heathrow – Amritsar and London Gatwick – Delhi. At that point in time, no one was tracking this development.

Since a single company handles slot allocation for various airports, they tend to publish a full season report at the beginning of Summer and Winter season. It gives an idea of how many slots are allocated to various airlines but do not give an idea what the slot timings are.

Plus, this report is valid only for the day the data was collected. Slot swaps can occur after the report is published. We saw this recently in the case of Jet Airways which had 56 slots at London Heathrow according to a report. But a few days after the report was published, 14 slots (7 departure and 7 arrivals) were taken by Delta reducing the total slots to 42 at London Heathrow.

So, this is dynamic. But it gives us an idea of what airlines are planning and what their intentions are. Now, in spite of declining developments towards flying to London at various industry fora, all the low-cost carriers continue to work towards launching flights to London and other destinations in the UK.

Let’s have a look at what IndiGo, SpiceJet and Air India are aspiring to do.

IndiGo

It is known for a long time that IndiGo is planning to add flights to London, specifically London Gatwick. They secured slots in the last schedule. But looks like IndiGo has returned their slots. According to the latest report, IndiGo doesn’t hold any slots at London Gatwick airport. London Heathrow and London Gatwick may soon be covered under IndiGo’s codeshare agreement with Turkish Airlines.

Instead, IndiGo now holds slots at London Stansted airport. It is also mentioned that IndiGo has intentions of operating flights from Delhi and Bengaluru. IndiGo has secured slots for 174 departures from London Stansted on an A321neo. That represents 81 days of operation considering 2x daily flights to London Stansted.

IndiGo London

London Stansted slots

IndiGo has also secured slots at Birmingham airport. IndiGo has slots only for 26 days of operation and plans to use them on Amritsar – Birmingham flights on an A321neo. Perhaps IndiGo is planning to start this route towards the end of the schedule from October 1, 2019.

I have been following these reports for quite some time now. What struck me was that in Winter 2018 report, IndiGo had also secured slots at London Gatwick airport. It was clearly mentioned that the slots were intended for Tbilisi – London Gatwick and not Delhi – London Gatwick. We knew that Tbilisi was rumoured to be a stop for Delhi – London Gatwick flight at that time.

IndiGo London

W18 London Gatwick Changes

But in the Summer report 2019, the route mentioned is Delhi and Bengaluru. So is IndiGo finally preparing to launch a non-stop Delhi – London Stansted flight? We know that only the first five A321neos will have 1 ACT (Additional Centre Tank). So will IndiGo take delivery of the A321LR which is an A321neo with 3 ACTS and has a range of 4100nm?

IndiGo London

S19 London Gatwick

Delhi – London Stansted is 4154 nm, Bengaluru – London Stansted is 4974 nm and Amritsar – Birmingham is 3981 nm. So is it a twice-daily BLR-DEL-STN? Or is it BLR-STN, DEL-STN and ATQ-BHX with a technical stop? A technical stop wouldn’t give them any competitive advantage.

Why London Stansted airport?

It is cheaper to operate from than both London Gatwick and Heathrow airport. Even it is easier to secure slots at London Stansted comparatively. Only real competition at this airport is the 2x daily flights on 777-300ER operated by Emirates featuring their new hard product. Not that IndiGo is perhaps thinking of competing with them. But Emirates may be thinking of competing with IndiGo, perhaps to get them out of the market sooner than later.

10 hours on a narrowbody aircraft even if there is a stop in between, that too on IndiGo’s hard product, is not my cup of tea. This trip report of IndiGo’s inaugural flight to Istanbul on an A321neo will give you an idea why.

Air India

Air India currently operates double daily Delhi – London Heathrow, one daily Mumbai – London Heathrow, four times weekly Ahmedabad – London Heathrow and 3 times weekly Bengaluru – London Heathrow flights.

Air India 787-8 Business Class flat bed

Air India 787-8 Business Class flatbed

Air India also operates 7 weekly flights to Birmingham (split between Delhi & Amritsar). Currently, Amritsar – Birmingham flights are suspended till June 2019 due to Pakistan airspace closure. But back in January 2019 as well, we knew Air India is planning a big expansion.

Air India had applied for slots to operate daily Bengaluru – London Heathrow flights. Air India managed to secure slots to operate 3x weekly departures.

Air India Bengaluru-London Heathrow

IndiGo London

Air India Bengaluru-London Heathrow

This is similar to AI 111/112 Delhi – London Heathrow and in line with Air India’s afternoon bank of European departures.

You may be wondering that Air India operates Bengaluru – London Heathrow flights with different timing. That is because it is using the slots meant for London Heathrow – Newark flights which got replaced with Bengaluru service.

Air India Ahmedabad to London Air India Ahmedabad to London Air India London to Ahmedabad Air India London-Newark

Air India London to Ahmedabad

Air India Ahmedabad-London-Newark schedule

In addition, Air India had also applied for slots to operate Amritsar – London Heathrow flights. But these slots were waitlisted as they weren’t available.

Air India Amritsar-London Heathrow

Air India Amritsar-London Heathrow

Air India London Heathrow-Amritsar

Air India London Heathrow-Amritsar

In the Summer Season 2019 report, it was confirmed that Air India has managed to secure 62 departure slots for the entire season up from the 56 slots it held earlier. So, Air India has additional slots to operate 3 weekly flights to London Heathrow this summer.

And judging by the slot timing graph, it is clear that Air India has secured slots for 3 weekly 20:20 (19:20 adjusted to 20:20 due to Summertime) arrival and 22:05 (21:05 adjusted to 22:05 due to Summertime) departure from Heathrow.

IndiGo London

S19 London Heathrow slot adjustment

Air India does have spare 787s which it can use to operate additional flights from either Amritsar or Bengaluru or Newark. Plus they reduced flights to Copenhagen, Madrid and Birmingham this summer so their fleet utilisation has dipped further. I guess the never-ending delay in the opening of Pakistan Airspace is playing a spoil-sport.

SpiceJet

In January itself, we put forward SpiceJet’s intentions of operating a few routes to the UK with an A330-300. In the recent update, SpiceJet hasn’t secured any slots at London Heathrow and London Gatwick.

But SpiceJet has secured slots at Birmingham Airport. SpiceJet has secured slots for 129 departures. They aspire to operate 6 weekly A330 flights on Amritsar – Birmingham route. So that translates to 21 weeks of service. Presumably, there were eying a mid-June launch.

IndiGo London

Amritsar-Birmingham

Also, SpiceJet was eying a June launch for flights to London according to the slot filings in January 2019. Well, I am pretty sure SpiceJet won’t go ahead with the plan and may return those slots back. It doesn’t make sense to add a new fleet type that too a widebody aircraft for one route.

They may have plans for some more routes but talking about the UK, they had plans for 3 routes and now it is down to just 1 route. WOW Air recently ceased operations and its CEO went on record to say that ordering widebody aircraft was their biggest mistake.

I get it the markets are different and I even put together a business case for the A330neo for Indian LCCs. But, what is surprising is that SpiceJet plans to use a premium heavy A330-300. As a point of comparison, Lufthansa’s A333 has 255 seats (42J, 28Y+, 185Y) and Singapore Airlines’ A333 has 287 seats (30J 255Y). SpiceJet is going the hybrid way.

There are a lot of A330-300 in the second-hand market; ex-WOW Air A330-300, Etihad’s A330-300s and some Singapore Airlines A330-300s will be available soon. There is even a couple of WOW air A330neo ready. I couldn’t find a 267 seat A330-300 though. It is safe to rule out that SpiceJet won’t wet lease any A330-300 since no airline would reconfigure an aircraft for a short period of time.

Bilaterals?

I have already explained the bilateral rights between India and the UK back in January 2019. According to the bilateral treaty, Indian carriers are restricted to 56 weekly one-way flights on Delhi – London Heathrow and Mumbai – London Heathrow combined. There are no restrictions on Indian carriers to operate flights from any other Indian airport to the UK except Delhi and Mumbai to London Heathrow.

So Indian carriers are free to add as many flights as they want to other airports like London Gatwick, London Stansted, Manchester and so on. Indian carriers can add as many flights as they want to London Heathrow from any Indian Airport except Mumbai and Delhi. So bilateral rights aren’t an issue, but they need slots, and that is a different ball game.

Bilateral rights for 14 weekly flights between London Heathrow and Mumbai/Delhi are currently unutilised. I think Jet Airways has those rights considering they applied for additional flights from Delhi and the recent cancellation of third daily Mumbai – London Heathrow flight. It will be a bit tough for Vistara to get those rights but let’s see.

Bottomline

This post is an update to what I put forward in January. It shows, that the intentions of Indian airlines to pursue expansion to the UK. IndiGo’s foray looks more probable, and they’d do well to launch it before the ICC World Cup which is in the UK this year. It is easier for Air India, but considering the Pakistan airspace closure and groundings of widebody aircraft, it looks bleak.

I admire SpiceJet’s thinking of going the hybrid way as LCC widebody operations aren’t sustainable in the long run. A premium cabin or at least a premium economy cabin is required at the front. Birmingham -Amritsar is seeing a lot of interest but is there a demand for so many flights? Let’s see how many routes actually come to fruition.

What are your thoughts on this aggressive UK push?

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