India – United Kingdom is one of the largest Origin – Destination (O-D) markets and has always been a market which carriers have looked at on priority. A right mix of premium traffic, good beyond connectivity and the lure of London has meant that carrier after carrier has tried to get into London from India. Air Sahara operated to London, Jet Airways leased A340s till they took delivery of their own metal and started flights to London. Kingfisher Airlines started London flights from Bengaluru, only to curtail it later and have a steady schedule from Delhi and Mumbai.
Virgin Atlantic announced its return to Mumbai starting 27th October 2019 (winter schedule) operating a daily service from London Heathrow, deploying Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner. This will be the airlines third stint at Mumbai, with the last one coming at a time when Kingfisher pulled out of London & eventually collapsed. This time around, it is when Jet Airways has suspended services.
The airline made the announcement on 21st May and opened reservations for the flight today, using the same flight numbers it operated with last time.
VS354 LHR1015 – 0040(+1) BOM
VS355 BOM0255 – 0735LHR
The aircraft will be equipped with 31 Business Class (Upper Class), 35 Premium Economy and 192 economy class seats. The airline has operated the B787-9 to New Delhi, currently is scheduled the A330 which is often swapped with the A340 owing to the Pakistani airspace closure.
Jet Airways operated thrice daily departures from Mumbai and a daily departure from New Delhi. The suspension of flights led to a huge vacuum in the market. This also coincides with the traffic for cricket world cup which begins on 30th May.
British Airways will be operating 18x weekly flights on Mumbai – London Heathrow route from 2nd June 2019 to cater to the additional demand.
The last year has seen over 28,00,000 passengers on this route non-stop. Apart from this, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways from the middle east and others European carriers take a slice of the traffic, the largest of them being Emirates with up to 10 flights a day to London Area airports.
The India – UK bilateral restricts flights between India and London Heathrow at 56 frequencies per week. Currently Air India operates 21 frequencies, with 14 from New Delhi and 7 from Mumbai. Jet Airways operated 28 frequencies (21 from Mumbai and 7 from New Delhi) and there was room for one more daily frequency which Air India continued to claim as its own.
With the suspension of Jet Airways and subsequent release of slots at London, the 28 frequencies are up for grabs with media reports indicating that a sizable portion would go to Air India while Vistara tries to get a pie of this.
At airports beyond London Heathrow, the two countries have open skies arrangement allowing airlines from India to fly to any other airport in United Kingdom, including London Stansted and London Gatwick from any point in India.
With other London area airports outside the purview of the Air Services Agreement, IndiGo & Spicejet which harbor ambition to fly to London will not clamor for the rights to London Heathrow as it is one of the most expensive airports to operate in the world. However, irrespective of the expense it makes immense sense for Air India and Vistara to operate as it tries to gain a sizable share of the international market.
Will Virgin Airlines be third time lucky? The uncanny timing of entering Mumbai every time an airline has collapsed has not gone unnoticed. But the airline has not been able to make this work, just as yet.
With a new aircraft type, a serious deficit of seats on the route and Virgin Atlantics own change of game plan since the last time it serviced Mumbai could not work in its favor.
Pic Credit: Dipalay