Airbus introduced successor of the A330 program in 2014: the A330neo, which comes in two models, the A330-800 and the A330-900. The A330neo program had quite a dry spell in terms of orders,until recently, when Emirates announced an order for 40 A330-900 aircraft. Airbus has around 250 A330neo on the order book. Out of this, there are only eight aircraft on order for the A330-800 which are placed by Kuwait Airways; the rest are for A330-900.
Airbus has been trying to persuade both IndiGo and SpiceJet for quite some time to add the A330neo to their fleet. Both airlines have intentions to launch long-haul widebody operations and were pretty much gung-ho about it till a while back when oil prices turned. Delhi was one of the destinations for the A330neo world tour last July, and then it was nixed last minute. Finally, the aircraft made it to India in February 2019 at Aero India 2019.
Currently, both the airlines seem to have put their plans on the backburner. They want their finances to stabilise. Oil prices are high, and costs are also spiralling out of hands.
At this time, adding a totally new aircraft type that too a widebody can turn into a financial disaster. There are a lot of costs and planning required in order to add a new aircraft type.
But is there a case for a widebody aircraft in an India LCC fleet?
Let’s start with which aircraft is IndiGo or SpiceJet looking at. Airbus has two A330neo on offer: A330-800 and A330-900. The A330-800 can seat 251 passengers in a standard 2 class layout and a maximum of 405 passengers in a single class layout. I guess the maximum seating can be achieved by having a 3-3-3 configuration in a single class.
Let’s say IndiGo thinks of adding a Premium Economy cabin or a recliner Business class cabin at the front, that would mean around 300-320 seats on an A330-800. Why would IndiGo take a new aircraft type for a marginal increase in seats and a huge increase in range over the A321neo that it already has? The A330-800 doesn’t fit the bill.
The A330-900, on the other hand, can seat 300-310 passengers in a standard 2 class layout with a maximum of 440 passengers. This is more likely a suitable candidate. IndiGo or SpiceJet may go for 360-370 seats in a 2 class layout. This would give them the passenger count and the range that they want.
What routes can the A330neo ply on?
According to Airbus, A330neo offers the same cost advantage on a 2-hour flight as on a long haul flight. This may do wonders for Indian LCCs on domestic trunk routes like Delhi – Mumbai, Delhi – Bengaluru and so – on. Already Air India and sometimes Jet Airways fly their widebody aircraft on these routes.
Imagine the impact on fares and yield with an increase from the current 180-189 seats to ~350 seats on these routes. IndiGo has already outlined that they will use the A321neo on domestic trunk routes also.
Apart from these routes, there are quite a few International routes that can support a widebody LCC aircraft.
- Mumbai/Delhi – Singapore/Hong Kong
- Mumbai/Delhi – Middle East
- South India – Middle East
- Destinations such as London, Birmingham which are 10-hours away
- Australia (think) Delhi – Melbourne/Sydney
- Seasonal destinations like Paris and Amsterdam
- Hajj routes
This would call for a small sub-fleet of say ~20 A330neo aircraft, not a big order like IndiGo and SpiceJet are known for. There aren’t that many no-frill long-haul routes from India which will give enough volume to sustain a daily or even a 3x weekly flight.
Remember, no-frill carriers won’t be able to attract
- Business travellers
- Frequent travellers
Their primary target may end up being tourists who are seasonal.
A small fleet can do wonders for them if they are creative. We have already seen SpiceJet operate seasonal flights with both Q400 and 737s. If they do the same thing with widebody aircraft, it will result in optimum utilisation of resources as well as give them good returns.
We have seen SpiceJet differentiate from others. IndiGo is also considering giving a free basic meal onboard their ~7-hour flight to Istanbul. If they eventually add a widebody fleet, they may go for a premium cabin. They may be a no-frills carrier, but they know the value of the cabin in front of the aircraft and the revenues it can get if done in the right way.
AirAsia X has an angled-flat business class in the front cabin of their A330s. Scoot and Norweign Air Shuttle have recliner seats and so-on. If they differentiate and go for a hybrid carrier model, they may be able to serve more routes and target the premium passengers segment as well.
Why A330neo and not Boeing 787?
The Boeing 787-9 does have a better fuel economy than the A330-900 and is slightly cheaper than the A330-900 also. But IndiGo has a long-standing partnership with Airbus, and Airbus wanting to sell more A330-900s might result in a huge discount, something that Boeing won’t be able to give.
SpiceJet, on the other hand, may be lured by Airbus which is seeking to increase its presence in India. Airbus just has 8 widebody aircraft in India as opposed to 59 Boeing widebody aircraft with 16 more on order.
Then there are many second-hand relatively young A330s (Etihad and WOW Air A330s) on the market ready for new owners. SpiceJet is perhaps looking at those if one has to go by what they filed for slots at London airports. Why not? Second-hand aircraft are way cheaper than brand new. Delivery is faster. Fuel burn and maintaining them can be costly but the overall cost of operation should be taken into account.
There is a nice business case for Airbus A330neo in India. The A330neo would definitely compliment the existing fleet and would be a nice fit. The timing of order and induction into the fleet will be crucial along with the order size. There are quite a few routes which can support LCC widebody aircraft and Indian carriers are known to differentiate.
Will we see an Airbus A330neo in Indian livery any time?