Julley! IndiGo announces flighs to Leh, Spicejet adds frequency

As IndiGo readies itself to launch its 63rd domestic destination – Leh, rival Spicejet pre-empted the play with a second daily flight to Leh from Delhi. The new flight for Spicejet was expected to start today but stands cancelled for the day, while IndiGo will launch its service on February 22, 2021. IndiGo has been a late entrant into this seasonal market.

Spicejet’s second daily departure will operate as per below timings

SG207 DEL0740 – 0930IXL 356

SG207 DEL0740 – 0910IXL 1247

SG208 IXL1000 – 1105DEL 356

SG208 IXL0940 – 1105 1247

Spicejet had launched Leh in May 2018 with flights from Delhi. GoAir was the first LCC at Leh and has been present since October 2010.

IndiGo late to the party?

The airline has long believed in KISS philosophy. Keep It Simple Silly! So much so that the initial A320neo which the airline inducted were 180 seats and not 186 which Airbus was offering. This was to maintain the commonality with the existing fleet of A320ceo, even at the cost of an attractive lower per seat cost metrics. 

Things have changed by leaps and bounds since then. The airline now has a fleet which has more variations than few full service carriers! ATR72-600, A320ceo, A320neo, A321neo and the ATR, A320neo and A321neo in two different configurations which are in the process or have completed standardisation. It is probably this thought that led the airline to start services to Leh – one of the most difficult airports in India and one which requires aircraft to be modified and re-certified – a proposition which is expensive and requires anywhere between 100k to 150k USD. With costs as such, not all aircraft are modified and puts restrictions on which tail numbers can be deployed on the sector. 

At the scale at which IndiGo is – the costs now seem justified to an extent. However, the operations to Leh will be nowhere close to how IndiGo likes to launch flights to a station – with multiple flights from across the country. However, operations are filled with challenges! In 2018, GoAir experienced an engine failure while taking off from Leh for Jammu. The airline had to rely on help from the Indian Air Force to transport a spare engine to Leh and change it before the aircraft could be flown out. With limited parking space and facilities, aircraft grounding can be a long and expensive affair. The current apron has two full bays with additional aircraft being able to hold. The small terminal is just about managing to handle the steady flow of passengers and a larger terminal building is under construction.

IndiGo will operate the daily flights at below timings

6E2016 DEL0545 – 0720IXL 

6E2037 IXL0800 – 0945DEL 

Flights are effective Feb 22, 2021

Seasonality

Leh is the capital of the union territory of Ladakh and the largest town in the region. It is known for its beauty, tourist spots around Leh and the Pangong Tso! While the tourist season begins around April and ends with the Ladakh festival around September, other months of the year see the local population migrate to other tourist spots in the country (like Goa) for work. October to December marks the outflow which coincides with peak tourist season in Goa and Kerala. The workforce starts returning to Leh – starting end of February, marking another of one way traffic trends. 

For long, higher air fares to Leh have been in the news and so has been the demand to cap fares – for locals and tourists alike. While the year on year growth trend shows a positive increase in capacity, it hasn’t led to a stabilising of air fares. In a risk fraught environment like Leh, it is not wise to compare air fares of other routes which have similar block time but a different flying profile.

While IndiGo likes to flood flights to a new station from multiple cities across the country, Leh will not make that possible. The airport has severe shortage of bays along with limitations on operational hours due to air force movements and heavy winds. Navigating to the airfield can be challenging when the mountain tops are covered with clouds and likewise if the passes are covered with clouds. 

Readers may want to look at this thread where Capt. Shakti Lumba, Sanjiv Kapoor and Sisira Kanta Dash have discussed Leh operations based on their respective operations. 

What will the airline be able to do?

IndiGo has a formidable network ex-Delhi – with maximum number of domestic destinations being connected non-stop. Apart from this, the airline also has an unenviable bank of red eye flights which helps passengers reach Leh.

While currently Delhi airport is operating at limited capacity, when the airport moves to full capacity – IndiGo will be operating out of two, if not three terminals which makes connections a challenge for both airline and the passengers. The current system of inter terminal bus transfer is not a very convenient way of transfers.

Network Thoughts

Leh is very unlike a usual IndiGo destination. But in the past IndiGo has tried unconventional things and new routes. Leh has seen a non-stop from Mumbai, operated by GoAir in the past and IndiGo could well look at not just Mumbai but also Bengaluru or Kolkata in the medium to long term. A foot in the door helps the airline claim for more slots when additional bays are constructed. While this construction may be a little while away, IndiGo is known to have a long term view of things.

IndiGo will have to compete with Air India, Vistara, GoAir and Spicejet who have far higher capacity and connectivity at Leh.

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