Heathrow airport (Image: Reuters)
IndiGo, India’s largest airline by fleet and domestic market share, has secured slots at London Heathrow. The airline intends to operate daily services to London Heathrow from Mumbai and New Delhi effective mid-January, going by the details released by ACL, the slot co-ordinator of London Heathrow and many other airports such as Manchester, Birmingham and Dubai.
IndiGo has long coveted slots at London Heathrow—one of the world’s most sought after and busiest airports—and has finally succeeded. The airline had obtained slots at London Gatwick but never started operations. IndiGo has been candid about operations to London Heathrow; both its CEO and CCO have spoken at lenghth about its ambitions and challenges in the past.
In the initial co-ordination exercise concerning slot allocation, neither IndiGo nor Spicejet had requested for slots at London Heathrow. But things have turned topsy-turvy for aviation since March with the COVID-19 pandemic almost grounding the entire passenger traffic. Airlines were mostly grounded and a few focused primarily on cargo to stay aloft.
Love for UK is not new
IndiGo has made no secret about its ambitions in the United Kingdom market. For the last five seasons, the airline has been filing for slots and routes across the UK.
This includes request for slots at Birmingham for flights from Amritsar and to London Stansted from Delhi and Bengaluru. The airline had also obtained slots at London Gatwick for flights from New Delhi.
While earlier the airline had requested for slots for its A321neo aircraft with 222 seats, last winter it requested for a 341 seat A330-300 for flights to Manchester from Mumbai and New Delhi.
Is IndiGo feeling left out? The Tata-SIA joint venture Vistara launched its first widebody international flights to London Heathrow last month. Vistara, a full-service airline, operates a three class B787-9 on the route. IndiGo’s low-cost competitor Spicejet has also announced launch of services to London Heathrow and will operate from Delhi and Mumbai. SpiceJet is holding seven departure slots but will start with thrice a week service, with two services to Delhi and one to Mumbai. Government-owned Air India has meanwhile raised its London game.
Listing on the London Heathrow airport website shows IndiGo intends to have its Delhi arrival at 1725 hours and departure at 2105 hours from Heathrow, while the Mumbai flight would arrive at 1920 hours and leave at 2205 hours.
At these timings, the airline will take head on Vistara and Spicejet on the Delhi–London Heathrow route with identical timings. Again, nothing new for IndiGo, which thanks to its sheer size, has long attempted to muscle out competition.
Also Read: SpiceJet’s London Heathrow flight gamble — what you need to know
Will IndiGo really start now?
While the market could be at its worst, the lease rentals for wide-body aircraft are at its best right now. The airline holds slots from mid January, which will give it sufficient time to observe how deep (or shallow) is the recovery, assess the performance of competitors on the route and calculate the scope of making a dent in the market. IndiGo will also be able to gauge how the pandemic is being handled, if there is a second wave and how close the world is to developing a vaccine, which will dictate the travel plans for scores of passengers.
While there were reports about a possible hub or a tech stop in the caucuses for the A321neos to make the trip to the UK, the current geopolitical situation in the region definitely does not make it a good bet for the long run. This means that the only option is to operate the wide-body aircraft.
While IndiGo has harped about its single fleet type model, it has since expanded to include the A320neo, A321neo and the ATR72-600, moving slowly towards a network carrier model. It hasn’t lost its focus on low costs though.
Slot filing and allocation do not mean an will start services at the scheduled date. In the past, IndiGo received slots at various airports in the United Kingdom but stopped short of starting services.
But slot filing does indicate long-term intent and ambitions. Very few new routes make money from day one, but IndiGo has deep pockets and the current lease rates for the A330 make it an attractive proposition. The real question is will it want to open them for a route like London and invest in a wide body in some form or another?Ameya Joshi runs the aviation analysis website Network Thoughts.