IndiGo, the country’s largest carrier by fleet size and domestic market share, plans to offer passengers a more comfortable flying experience with an upgrade in seating on some of its aircraft, chief executive officer Rononjoy Dutta said.
Dutta, at a CAPA Live virtual summit, also commented on the international and domestic mix of IndiGo’s planned schedule in the coming years.
The plan to improve its offering comes in the backdrop of a code-share agreement the airline signed with American Airlines that takes effect later this month. IndiGo also has similar agreements in place with Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways.
Everytime the airline signs a code-share agreement, there is talk about the difference in service and passenger experience on the leg of the journey operated by IndiGo.
The airline has received some flak for its flights to Istanbul from Delhi, the longest in its schedule as of now.
At CAPA Live, Dutta said IndiGo was looking at improving seating comfort on some of its aircraft with better cushioning. The airline has slim-line seats on most aircraft.
IndiGo has often flirted with the idea of acquiring wide-body planes but not gone ahead with a purchase order. Rival SpiceJet has wet-leased such aircraft, but made little headway, with its famed Flight to London not yet having taken off.
Dutta remains bullish about IndiGo’s international operations and spoke of a four-corner strategy of operating seven-hour journeys from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Manila, Shanghai, Moscow and Nairobi are some of the cities which could be part of its destination map,
The airline wants to be the only non-stop carrier in these markets.
In the pre-COVID days, IndiGo deployed 75 percent of its capacity in the domestic market, and the remaining on international routes. This mix could change to 60% domestic and 40 percent overseas, he said, with more flights on offer.
Going by the numbers, it looks like IndiGo’s international services will more than double and with longer flights, the higher Available Seat Kilometers, or ASKS, will be a considerable chunk of its total.
New plane deliveries are helping IndiGo return older aircraft while keeping its fleet size little changed, Dutta said.
IndiGo took delivery of more Airbus aircraft than any other carrier did in 2020. In one of his analyst calls in the past, Dutta had referred to the likelihood of a small dip in the fleet count in 2022. The count would increase at the end of 2023 and early in 2024, he said.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had initially estimated that air traffic will be back to pre-COVID levels only by 2024. If and when traffic returns to pre-COVID levels, IndiGo would either already have the A321XLR in its fleet or would be on the verge of inducting the ultra long-range narrowbody aircraft.
To be sure, IndiGo is changing faster than aviation analysts had expected. While some of the change is organic, some of it could well be pushed by changing market dynamics.
The airline is focused on how to add value to its code-share partners, most of which provide in-flight connectivity. This will help as the airline embarks on longer international routes.
This makes the question of installing ovens on board its aircraft the final frontier for the airline, which has resisted market pressure to do so because of concerns over the added weight and service complexity such a move would entail.
However, the airline has moved away from a lot of its core philosophies - including a single fleet strategy which it harped on in its early days. The airline will settle with three different types of aircraft, with a couple of sub-fleets within them, in a few years from now.