The world may not have come to a stop, just yet, but India definitely has. Amidst this, the Summer Schedule 2020 started on Sunday 29th March. On a normal start of the schedule, airports are abuzz with the launch of new flights; passengers are checking and matching the revised flight numbers and minor time adjustments. Not this time though, the world air traffic has plummeted to unprecedented levels with many countries completely closed and airlines grounded. If there is one market which was operational till the last minute and that was the India – UK market.
Recently, ACL – the slot co-ordinator for London Heathrow and multiple other airports, released the details about Air India leasing 3x weekly slots at London Heathrow from Garuda Indonesia, effective this summer schedule.
— Ameya (@khabri_lal) March 27, 2020
Here is a look of what Indian airlines have filed and have approval for at airports in the United Kingdom.
A slot at London Heathrow is one of the most sought after in the world. It is also one of the few airports in the world which allows trading of slots and commands a premium for slots! While IndiGo, Spicejet and Vistara had filed slots at London Heathrow, they were rejected during the initial filing.
The report at the beginning of the schedule shows that Air India has been allocated 56 weekly slots, translating to 28 weekly departures i.e. 4 daily flights. The airline is likely to utilize the slots as per its current schedule which involves double daily flights to Delhi, four times a week between Ahmedabad and London Heathrow, three times a week between Bengaluru and London Heathrow and ten times a week between Mumbai and London Heathrow which also utilizes the three additional slots per week which the airline has obtained from Garuda Indonesia on lease.
Ironically, London Gatwick hasn’t listed out the airlines and new services which are expected from summer schedule 2020. However, both Vistara and IndiGo had bagged slots at London Gatwick in the initial allocation of slots.
While, London Gatwick may be a backup plan for Vistara, I continue to believe that Vistara will make it to London Heathrow, as written in the past.
Air India launched services to London Stansted from Amritsar and followed it up with services from Mumbai – which eventually shifted to London Heathrow and would continue so after the leasing of slot from Garuda Indonesia.
Air India would continue to operate to London Stansted from Amritsar and could try to get slots at London Heathrow to consolidate its London Area operations.
National carrier Air India has filed for 14 weekly slots at Birmingham, translating into seven departures per week, which would be split between Amritsar and New Delhi. IndiGo – has also filed for 14 slots with 7 weekly departures to Delhi. The filing does not mention any intermediate point for IndiGo. IndiGo intends to offer 4774 seats per week while Air India intends to offer 3584 seats per week. While the Air India calculation makes it clear that it would operate its 256 seat B787-8 Dreamliner, the IndiGo calculation shows that it intends to operate a 341 seater aircraft.
IndiGo had filed for a 341 seater A330-300 to Manchester for this summer. IndiGo has also asked for a delayed start with only 204 slots as compared to 430 slots of Air India, which gives the airline ample time to start the operations later in the scheduling season.
The airport hasn’t declared its season starting report yet but IndiGo remained the only carrier to file for slots at Manchester.
UK based carriers
The UK based carriers – British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have been increasing services to India. This includes third flight to India by Virgin Atlantic in November and quickly announcing its connection to Manchester from New Delhi starting winter 2020. British Airways also cornered the India – UK market with sizable presence at both Mumbai and Delhi
It is anybody’s guess on how long the unprecedented situation would continue across the world. So far no country has come out of the pandemic and one wonders how long it will take for air traffic to be back, first on domestic routes followed by International.
With a number of airlines facing headwinds post the normalization of services, there will be a deluge of planes in the market and thus if somebody wants to start new services, planes would not be an issue. The question is, will somebody start? Will the demand return?
I don’t see IndiGo taking any A330s in current condition so the filing to Manchester or Birmingham is unlikely to be so in reality.