IndiGo has been on a roll lately. They have added 14 Airbus A320, 16 Airbus A320neo and 9 ATR 72-600 aircraft since January 1, 2018. This has helped them expand into Middle-East, Far-East and Tier 2/3 cities domestically. They plan on ramping up their present fleet of 186 aircraft to 200 aircraft by the end of the year, making them the first airline in India to have such a large fleet.
IndiGo had placed an order for 180 Airbus A320neo with Airbus back in 2011 with a follow-up order of 250 A320neos in 2014. IndiGo had an option to convert a part of the order to Airbus A321neo aircraft, and they did go for it.
25 Airbus A321neo ACF will form a part of their future fleet with the first one, MSN #8557, due to arrive in November 2018. Two more are currently in production (MSN #8587 & MSN #8655). IndiGo plans on adding flights to London Gatwick with this aircraft. The initial chatter stated IndiGo would connect New Delhi with London Gatwick via Istanbul.
So what is Airbus A321neo? Will IndiGo launch flights this winter? What are the headwinds?
The Airbus A321neo is being offered by Airbus in 7 weight variants (2 engine options x 2 variants: normal & increased Maximum Takeoff Weight variant). The increased MTOW variant is possible due to the ACF (Airbus Cabin Flex) configuration, which will be standard for all Airbus A321neos from 2020. The LR (Long Range) is a variant of Airbus A321neo ACF.
With the Airbus Cabin Flex, door number 2 is permanently deleted, and two overwing exits on each side are activated. This enables airlines to add more seats to their airframes. One version is optimised for maximum range (7,400 km) while the other is optimised for maximum seats (240 seats). Each variant is offered with the option of 0/1/2/3 Additional Center Tanks. The LR (Long Range) is the ACF version with 3 ACTs.
Can the aircraft do 7,400 km with 240 seats? Ideally, yes. It can do that, but you would have to sacrifice the number of bags & cargo that you load on the aircraft. This because ACTs take up a part of the belly space meant for bags/cargo. And the total takeoff weight of the plane still can’t exceed 97 tonnes.
IndiGo is taking deliveries of Airbus A321-271NX. Here, 7 shows Pratt & Whitney engines, N refers to Neo (New Engine Option), and X refers to Xtended. The X tells us that IndiGo will receive the increased MTOW version of the Airbus A321neo with ACF.
Indigo to London on an A321 then?
It is very well known that IndiGo has stopped their search for the widebody aircraft at the moment. They were looking at the A330neo for their long-haul operations, but not at the moment.
Earlier this month, it was confirmed that IndiGo got slots at London Gatwick from October 28, 2018, onwards. Of course, the reaction would be to launch flights, right? It is known that IndiGo will begin flights to London from Delhi, with a stop, almost confirmed to be at Istanbul.
Why the stop at Istanbul? Delhi to London Gatwick has a Great Circle distance of 6,732 km. It cannot be flown by the Airbus A321neo ACF nonstop, not without payload restriction. The only version that can do it is the LR version. But the LR version is still undergoing tests and certification procedure. So IndiGo isn’t getting the LR version yet. Their first five aircraft will only have one Auxilary Fuel Tank.
In the meanwhile, IndiGo has secured slots at London Gatwick airport with effect from October 28, 2018. There is a minor detail here. If an airline doesn’t operate flights for 80% of the slot period, the slots go back into the pool. So, if IndiGo will launch the route, the A321 with a stop at Istanbul looks like their best bet.
Considering the stop at Istanbul, it would be a long flight on a narrowbody aircraft. Delhi to Istanbul is at 6:45 hour block time, and Istanbul to London Gatwick are another 4:10 hour, taking the total flying time to 11 hours. Add an hour for the technical stop; it would be a 12-hour flight on a narrowbody aircraft.
The flight will be similar to Lufthansa’s Pune service onboard their regionally configured Airbus A319 concerning the hard product unless the airline comes out with a new product for IndiGo XL and they have managed to keep it under wraps as of now. IndiGo knows well how to monetise ancillary revenues, and big seats may be one of the tricks up their sleeve too.
The Airbus A321neo ACF can accommodate a maximum of 240 passengers in a single class configuration with a 28-29 inch seat pitch. But IndiGo may go with around 220 seats with a 30-inch seat pitch similar to what they currently offer.
Discomfort among passengers due to a long flight and slimline seats, less space to stretch in the aisle / near the galley will be a problem. If you have been on a long-haul flight in economy, then you know the queue in front of the toilets. Also, the ratio of the number of passengers to the number of toilets is higher (~65) than a widebody aircraft (~45), so an increase in the waiting period. Let’s hope IndiGo hasn’t opted for “SpaceFlex” lavatories as they did with their newer 186 seat A320neo.
If IndiGo is planning on using the same hard product and I am borderline sure they are, then there will be two problems:
- IndiGo’s current slimline seats are bearable for short flights but imagine sitting in them for 11 hours, with no neck support or support for your tush.
- No Power Ports and IFE. IndiGo doesn’t provide IFE, and I guess they aren’t even planning on streaming IFE as Spicejet does. This will be a problem as the mobile phone and laptop will be the only source of entertainment, and it will run out of juice quickly. With no power ports and limited help from battery packs, it will be a problem.
Indigo to London on an A321 then? Won’t they?
All in all, it is going to be very messy if IndiGo goes ahead with the launch of the route this winter. They are on a tight schedule. This is because of a few reasons.
- They will receive one Airbus A321neo ACF which won’t be enough to start the route. Two more will join soon after but it’s still a small fleet to operate such a long route. If they had to de-roster an aircraft due to various reasons, then where will they get a replacement aircraft? The Pratt Whitney Engine troubles would be one reason.
- Again, are there enough planes to do a daily flight in the first place? Just flying one aircraft to and from London, IndiGo would be asking for too much? Given they also have a tech stop on this flight.
- Are the planes even coming in on time? Some people expect these to be delivered in November 2018. Others don’t expect the aircraft to be arriving before March 2019.
- Airbus A321neo ACF will be a new variant or subtype in IndiGo’s fleet. Even though it is similar to the Airbus A320neo that IndiGo operates, but it still is a new addition. It is yet to be proven in IndiGo’s fleet. The aircraft will have to get DGCA approval, will have to do crew familiarisation and proving flights.
- London is going to be a new base for them. While that shouldn’t stop them from launching a flight, there are all sorts of things they look out for, and perhaps new flight with the new plane is not top of the list.
Hence, it will be a new route + new aircraft + new base combination. Perhaps the flights to Kuala Lumpur will get the A321neo first?
With six daily non-stop flights between New Delhi and London Heathrow on full-service carriers and reasonable fares, apart from many one-stop options with even lower fares, I wouldn’t think of travelling on IndiGo if they launch one-stop flights.
The variables here have me asking more questions than I have answers for. For one, will IndiGo wait and take delivery of the Airbus A321LR to launch the route? Second, if they delay the launch, then what will happen to the slots? Will they let go or lease them? Where will they deploy the initial Airbus A321neo ACF? Will they launch the route in summer then?
Also, IndiGo will have cheaper fares but then again, how cheap and will it be a better overall deal? And when will they launch the route? Only time will tell.
Help me paint this picture. Will IndiGo launch flights to London Gatwick this winter or will they wait it out? What do you think of IndiGo’s move this winter with the A321neo?