Opportunity in adversity: Vistara & SpiceJet secure London Heathrow slots for remaining Summer 2020 schedule

India – United Kingdom has been a profitable flight business for both, Indian as well as the UK-based carriers. Even for erstwhile Jet Airways, it was one of their money-spinner routes. But Indian carriers have all been after operating flights from London Heathrow, given the ability to make connections for onward travel to other parts of the world from London Heathrow. Air India even had its Fifth freedom rights to fly from India – London Heathrow and onwards to the USA.

There has been much contention to start flights to London by IndiGo, SpiceJet and Vistara for the longest time now. Vistara, IndiGo and SpiceJet have received slots at London, just not at Heathrow till so far, and they have continued to decline the offer to start operations to the other airports. One reason could also be the far-out nature of these airports from London city and the comparatively poor connectivity.

However, given that traffic is down to London Heathrow at the moment. By all projections, it will be a few years before air travel returns to pre-CoVid-19 numbers, it is a great time for airlines who have wanted to break into the market but have not been able to do so due to slot constraints at LHR.

SpiceJet targets afternoon arrival at LHR.

SpiceJet had made a couple of filings to the stock exchanges about, a) Getting designated carrier status for the UK, and b) getting slots at London Heathrow. The last filing made on August 4, 2020, stated,

In continuation of our earlier communication dated July 24, 2020 informing designation for UK operations, we would like to further inform you that SpiceJet has secured slots at London Heathrow Airport to operate flights effective September 1, 2020. This is presently under the bubble arrangement between India and UK and effective upto end of summer schedule i.e. October 23, 2020. The same shall be extended basis the resumption of regular operations. The Company is also in advance discussion to secure slots for winter schedule for regular operations.

While SpiceJet has still not unveiled their fleet plans for this operation, they do have slots at Heathrow, and a flight number as well. These slots have currently only been granted till October 2020. However, airlines tend to get to carry them forward if they use the slots to capacity, and the airport has spare ability to grant them.

SG091 will operate from Delhi to London Heathrow, planning a departure from Delhi at about 10 AM and will be scheduled to arrive at 3:25 PM at London Heathrow. On the turnaround from London Heathrow, the flight would take off from LHR at 5:25 PM, and hence be landing in Delhi at about 5 AM the next morning. Terminal 2 is the designated terminal for SpiceJet, and SpiceJet has approval for all days of the week operation.

What is awaited now, is SpiceJet’s equipment of choice for the route. Will SpiceJet continue to contract HiFly for these operations but will be able to put its code now on these flights remains to be seen. More of this should become more evident as we approach September 1.

Vistara targets afternoon departure at LHR

Vistara has been tight-lipped about their London Heathrow plans, but under the air-bubble negotiations, they have also received slots for temporary operations to London Heathrow along with SpiceJet. And Vistara has the equipment, as well as the intention to operate to London Heathrow for a very long time now. Vistara also has a code-share partnership with British Airways.

Vistara will operate from Terminal 2. These slots have currently only been granted till October 2020.  This information is now showing up on the London Heathrow website as well. 

UK6101 will operate from Delhi to London Heathrow with an early morning departure, to target a 6:55 AM arrival at London Heathrow.  On the turnaround from London Heathrow, the flight UK6102 would take off from LHR at 14:00 hours, and hence be landing in Delhi post-midnight.

For the moment, the airline will be able to operate four days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. This operation would need a second 787-9 which is still to be inducted in the fleet, and yet to be delivered to the airline.  These slots are filed for use from August 16, 2020, onwards at London Heathrow.

Vistara has now received slots for 8:20 PM Arrival at London Heathrow and 10:20 PM Departure from London Heathrow. This would mean that Vistara would depart from Delhi about 5 PM, and arrive back at Delhi at about 10-10:30 AM as well. This is good for an early after-work departure from Delhi and departing after a full day in London at work. The new slot filings show the intention of Vistara to fly from August 21, 2020 onwards.

Gaining and trading slots at LHR

Given the reduced usage of LHR right now, if these airlines manage to extend their usage over a period of time, they could become permanent fixtures at London Heathrow. For an airline to be able to trade slots they need to have at least two years vintage of operating at London Heathrow. However, nothing stops airlines from buying slots from other airlines.

Bottomline

No-frills long-haul is still a concept to be tested, and with wet-leased equipment, this could be a nice testing ground for SpiceJet to see if they would want to enter the low-cost long-haul market over a longer period of time.  For Vistara, this would be a dream come true and a perfect match for the equipment they have at the moment and their plans. I am not sure if they have appointed a handling agency at Heathrow, but it should not be something stopping them from making this plan work for them. Eventually, they can negotiate this slot, and perhaps more to get a longer-term schedule at LHR when this happens. Think of this as the foot in the door.

What do you think of SpiceJet and Vistara’s London plans?


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