Budget Indian airline IndiGo, the largest airline in India by passengers carried and fleet size, looks set to expand into European long haul market as soon as this upcoming Winter season.
The New Delhi-based airline (which operates to over 50 destinations, both domestic and international) has now managed to secure a slot at London Gatwick Airport — one of the world’s busiest single runway airports.
IndiGo is planning to operate the route using an Airbus A321neo, the first of which is due for delivery to the Indian carrier in November 2018.
The route between New Delhi–London Gatwick stretches over 3,600 nautical miles — but the A321neo (not to be confused with the longer range variant, the A321LR) has a maximum range of up to 3,000-3,600 nautical miles (depending on the cabin seating configuration). Due to the inadequate range, the flight between New Delhi–London Gatwick will make a stop, in order to refuel.
Sources at the airline are telling me it’s likely going to to be Istanbul (the new IST airport, which is set to open in late-October) that will be chosen as the the designated refuelling stop for IndiGo’s route to London Gatwick.
The airline intends to be able to fly passengers between Delhi and Istanbul (without restriction) but it’s unclear if they’ll be granted similar permission to carry passengers between London Gatwick and Istanbul (route currently dominated by Turkish Airlines) — or if fifth freedom restrictions will mean IndiGo are only eligible to carry passengers between New Delhi and London Gatwick/roundtrip, regardless of the Istanbul stopover.
What’s interesting is that the slot pairing IndiGo have obtained for London Gatwick becomes effective on 31 Oct 2018 — just over seven weeks away. Under EU “use it or lose it” rules, an airline must use at least 80% of any given slot at an airport or it goes back into a pool for distribution.
For this reason, IndiGo have a lot of work to do in a short space of time. The budget carrier will be finalising the entry-into-service for its undelivered A321neo, establishing the exact routing the airline will take to London Gatwick, selling tickets, marketing the route, establishing contracts with London-based ground handling agents, among a few hundred other tasks…all prior to the inaugural flight.
It’s always interesting when an airline carrier joins a major London airport for the first time. It comes with slot complications, industry-wide doubt, and a few operational hiccups along the way.
An A321LR would have been a safer bet, but I can’t help but slightly fear for IndiGo’s attempt at these long-haul ops, given the airline has been plagued by constant A320neo engine trouble, causing a lot of disruption to its domestic operations.
But, as some carriers have proven, London can be a relatively safe and reliable market, given both its diversity of passengers, and generally huge demand. India remains an important market for the UK, and Indian routes are among UK flag carrier, British Airways’ most reliable, and more importantly — profitable.
Are you surprised by IndiGo’s London plans?