Low cost carriers IndiGo and Spicejet and Full-Service Carrier Vistara filed for slots at London Heathrow for the Summer Schedule of 2020. This was revealed in the report published by ACL – the organization with handles slot allocations at London Heathrow and many other airports which includes Dubai.
Vistara is expecting delivery of its B787-9 Dreamliner in the next few months and has not yet commented on its long haul international plans. While Spicejet and IndiGo have been eying operations to the United Kingdom, primarily London for a while, Vistara – will definitely look at London as it has the highest Origin – Destination traffic and is considered as one of the lucrative routes.
The India – UK bilateral (air services agreement) is restricted between Mumbai and Delhi to London Heathrow. London Area has six airports – London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, London Luton, London Southend and London City. Except of London City – the rest are capable of handling long haul flights on narrow-body and widebody aircraft. The Mumbai/Delhi to London Heathrow frequency is capped to 56 per week each side. Currently Air India is the sole Indian operator on this sector with 14 weekly flights from New Delhi and seven weekly from Mumbai. The airline operates four flights a week from Ahmedabad and thrice a week from Bengaluru, making it 28 weekly departures from Heathrow. The airline recently started flights to London Stansted from Amritsar.
The report from ACL shows 56 slots for Air India in Summer Schedule of 2020 – which translates to 28 arrivals and 28 departures in line with its current operations. Interestingly, IndiGo had recently said that it has dropped plans for flying to London. However, the report shows that the airline had requested for 42 slots each week, translating into 21 departures or thrice daily flights. Spicejet had asked for 14 slots, which is equivalent to one daily flight, same as Vistara. The initial coordination report does not show the aircraft type with which the airlines had filed or intermediate points.
None of the airlines, except Air India have been allocated slots at London Heathrow. Filing slots is a common phenomenon and nothing unusual. Slots can be denied because of timing or lack of documentation like being assigned the designated carrier on the route by the home country, in this case India. The international slot calendar works in a well-defined manner with airlines having filed their slots at airports in September 2019 for schedule starting 29th March 2020. More often than not, new airlines which are in the process of route finalization change their plans post filing of slots or see changes to aircraft induction, et al. It will be wrong to read much into either rejection of slots or filing.
Of these three carriers, Vistara will definitely be interested in operating to London and would soon have the aircraft in its fleet which is capable of completing the mission, non-stop. As things stand, the Indian side has three more frequencies between Mumbai/Delhi and London Heathrow as per the bilateral agreement. The challenge will definitely be slots. Jet Airways was utilizing slots from Etihad. London Heathrow allows trade of slots and is one of the most expensive aviation commodity.