IndiGo may be heading to London with a widebody sooner than you think

IndiGo, India’s biggest airline by market share and fleet, has been facing a question of sorts that we have discussed in the past. IndiGo wants to head to London, becoming a long-haul player of note. Still, it knows its current model of cutting and pasting the domestic passenger experience on international flights does not work for trips longer than 4-5 hours, as the Istanbul experience shows. In the meanwhile, they’ve been filing and receiving slots in London. Still, they did not make a move forward on the plan, and Jazeera Airways of Kuwait has stolen a march over them, offering sort of one of the first low-cost experience between India and London on a one-stop flight.

Recently, IndiGo said that they had put a hold on their plans to go to London on the narrowbody A320family, stating that they realise that a one-stop flight won’t work for customers. However, they did not quite wait very long to move forward on other plans. The IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta gave a flurry of media interviews, a week after the Qatar Airways codeshare signing.  Here are a few:

One of the statements he made was that IndiGo was expected to fly everywhere except the Americas, given it is hard to figure a business case for that stage length. Some of his quotable quotes were,

Deliveries of the A321 XLR begin from 2023-24. This aircraft can fly nonstop to western Europe but can’t do London (or other destinations in UK) nonstop apart from maybe Delhi. When we launch London, we will look at places like Mumbai and Bengaluru also. For that we will need wide body aircraft which are certainly not ruled out by the recent 300-aircraft order.

Wide body needs a business class. As of now, the business class market exists more for flying into India than flying out. We are creating corridors (for flow of passengers to create transit feed required to fill up these planes) by expanding the in the east and far east. Filling 350-seater wide body requires that and this something all big airlines globally have done.

However, it looks like IndiGo is not working on a timeline after the A321XLR arrival to launch their new flights to London. A few things have happened already. For instance, for the Summer 2020 schedule, which starts last Sunday of March 2020, IndiGo already had requested but was denied 42 slots per week at London Heathrow.

At London Stansted, where IndiGo was holding 28 slots, it lost those slots but has now acquired 14 slots, i.e., seven slot pairs in Summer 2020 schedule. But while the airline went from 6216 seats for 28 slots (14 flights) which were 222 seats one way in S19 to 4774 seats for 14 slots (7 flights) in S20 which is 341 seats one way. So, IndiGo’s CEOs statement matches the action on the ground.

However, IndiGo will perhaps again head to Stansted as they have been declined slots at LHR. IndiGo can always buy a slot pair (or few) at Heathrow from another carrier, but I don’t think that shelling out millions of dollars for a slot at Heathrow fits their business plans.

But not just that, here is something co-incidental that happened around the same time. IndiGo said they wouldn’t buy, but rather lease aircraft for the first few years to see how their experiment with London goes.

Hong Kong Airlines, which went into a fund crunch, and hence stopped accepting aircraft, had 5 A330-300 aircraft on order, which were put in storage at various places, including the Airbus assembly facility in China. These have now been showing some activity again. Have a look at one of these, MSN 1907, which took the first flight in November 2018.

Here is another one, MSN 1865, which is now brought back into Toulouse for Airbus, which took the first flight in May 2018.

These look like some probable candidates for IndiGo to take up as their experimental frames for starting these flights. These can be delivered to the original leasing company, and IndiGo could lease these from them. This would also mean that IndiGo won’t have to wait a few years to place an order and get some A330 aircraft into their fleet, while Vistara collects their 787 aircraft and launches flights to London. IndiGo will also need a business class cabin for trips that long.

Bottomline

IndiGo may be closer to launching their London flights than most people think. While everyone we talked to is tightlipped about the aircraft and we could be totally off base, the fact is that IndiGo now has widebody slots at London Stansted and that reflects the new thinking inside IndiGo about London flights. And it is not something that they are wondering about. They are moving forward with the plans. London is an important market for Indian carriers, and IndiGo is trying to make it there at the earliest. We had made a business case for IndiGo to fly the A330 a while back. So, you may see this plaque coming true soon.

IndiGo A330 render

What do you make of IndiGo’s plans for London, now that they finally look more comfortable for the customers?

With contributions from Karan Patel

Comments

  1. Certainly sounds probable and a very smart strategy for them to wet their toes into wide body operations by initially leasing.

    It remains to be seen however whether Indigo will be able to profitably operate the route with the Hong Kong airlines configuration that is too “premium” for Indigo’s business model.

    If they intend having a business class cabin, they will have to densify economy to 9 abreast (3-3-3) like Air Asia X.

    Otherwise they simply won’t be able to achieve the unit seat costs required to sustain the entry economy fares that would stimulate the leisure market or subsidise the business class fares at a level that would lure premium travellers to consider flying into Stansted.

    It’s also worth noting that Air Asia x has 12 angled flat seats in their 330s while HK Air has 30 staggered seats which I suspect will have too large a cabin footprint for Indigo’s business model.

    Simply put, I don’t see this working unless the aircrafts are reconfigured.

    Frankly, I think the Hi fly A330neo has a configuration that is optimised for Indigo- A small cabin of 18 flatbed seats and 353 economy seats arranged in an efficient 3-3-3 arrangement. This aircraft is already flying for Royal Brunei.

    Indigo could have also looked at Wows 330-Neo configuration that had 323 economy seats (standard 2-4-2) and 42 premium economy seats (2-3-2 pitched at 37 inches). These aircrafts have already been picked up by Citilink- the Low cost arm of Garuda Indonesia.

    I suspect it makes more sense for Indigo to go for a configuration like Hi Fly as they can attain the seat counts to give them a genuine cost advantage to sustain Low fares in economy that will genuinely stimulate the market while enabling them to target cost conscious business and premium leisure Travelers flying premium economy with other carriers with a true flat bed product at a comparable price.

  2. Any idea what kind of seats they will offer in business on the long haul?
    Same for Vistara with its long haul plans, what kind of seats will they have in business?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *