These two airlines are vying the India UK market beyond the metros

I follow the India – UK market closely for many reasons. It was one of the first international markets that I got to see closely from within an airline and work towards doing changes on the domestic feeder for it and it is one market which has a very different if not complex BASA (Bilateral Air Services Agreement). 

As the world begins the third year into the pandemic, two airlines are trying to enter the India – UK market and have no intentions of competing with the biggies like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air India and Vistara! Instead these airlines want to focus on opening up routes where they see demand and a strong belief that passengers will choose them over the mainline carriers to bypass the hubs!

These airlines are flypop – which has been in the works for a very long time and Hansa Airways – which was formed recently. Ironic as it may sound, flypop has been waiting for its wings for over a decade (or more) but it took the pandemic to take the plunge, largely driven by cheaper lease rentals for the aircraft and a belief that passengers will prefer non-stop flights over one-stop going forward!

Both airlines have their business plan hinged on the Airbus A330 aircraft, with flypop relying on A330-300 while Hansa Airways relying on A330-200. Let us first look at these aircraft!

A330: -200 and -300

The A330 is an old design and one of the first modern jetliners from Airbus. The airliner had its entry in service in 1994! The first one to hit the market was the A330-300 with the A330-200 becoming the smaller aircraft but with longer range than the -300 variant. The A330-200 first flew in August 1997. As Airbus re-engined the A330 to create the A330neo, the last of A330-300s and A330-200s were delivered in February 2020 and October 2019 respectively. 

The difference is the range and seating capacity. The advertised range is 13450 kms for the A330-200 and 11750 kms for the A330-300. The A330-200 can accommodate 246 passengers while the A330-300 can accommodate 300 passengers – in a typical two class layout. In a single class configuration, 406 and 440 passengers can be accommodated respectively!

For passengers who have travelled on airlines from India. Jet Airways operated a mix of A330-200s, and -300s; Kingfisher Airlines operated the A330-200s and so did Air India.

The men, machine and the mission

A couple of months ago I happened to see a youtube interview in Punjabi. I do not know that language, but thankfully the interview managed to give a jist of what the speaker was saying! Turns out he was Satnam Singh Saini – who is the CEO of Hans Air. Satnam Singh Saini has been working as liaison with governments to facilitate charter movements between India and the UK.

On the other hand, Nino Singh has been waiting patiently to get flypop off the ground.While the airline received the aircraft a few months ago, the current air bubble arrangement restricting frequencies between India and the UK has led to flypop working with HiFly – the charter specialist airline to utilise its aircraft as a preighter, which hopefully should be raking in some money for flypop!

The first aircraft of flypop (MSN 1445) is an 8.5 year old A330-300 powered by Rolls Royce engines. Two more aircraft are due to flypop. Online resources indicate that the aircraft has been operating for HiFLy Malta in absence of current engagements with flypop. These birds are ex-Cebu Pacific and configured in 436 economy class seats. However, flypop aims to have 378 seats in all economy configurations. 

For Hans Airways, the airline is relying on a 13.5 year old airframe which is currently configured in two classes (24 premium economy, 275 economy). The airframe was with Air Europa and withdrawn from service in January 2020.

The range advertised is mostly in ideal conditions! A heavier plane would have lower range and the plane can be heavy with cargo or seats. A great circle map distance between Birmingham and Amritsar is 6407 kms while that between London Stansted and Amritsar is 6285 kms. However, when you consider headwinds, various challenges on the geo-political front leading to avoid airspace over certain countries like Afghanistan, Iran, etc – the mission becomes longer. Yet, both the A330-200 and -300 should accomplish the mission successfully. However, beyond that when looking at, say Kolkata, it could be a stretch for a few days of the year when the head winds can be bothersome! The A330-200 should still be able to weather this.

Base and Routes

These are early days and Hans expects to have a licence in place by this Summer. The airline website lists Amritsar and Milan as its destinations but with one aircraft, the airline may look at a 6x weekly flight to Amritsar from Birmingham – where it plans to have its base. 

For flypop – the base is London Stansted and the airline website lists out destinations like Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Goa and Kochi. I would assume that the route network will evolve closer to finalisation of flights. For instance, until a few months ago – it also showed Pune which cannot accommodate the A330s and there still remains question mark about the apron at Chandigarh being able to handle the aircraft. 

Demand and a word of caution

Low Cost Long Haul has not really been successful thus far. We have ample examples of carriers struggling to make it work. From AirAsia X (and its subsidiaries Thai AirAsia X, Indonesia AirAsia X) to Norwegian and WOW air – groups which were backed with a network, lower costs and a geography where travel was booming – the long haul / wide body segment became bothersome and in some cases disastrous.

The business case for Amritsar hinges on the ability to fly direct and avoid Delhi. There have been umpteen surveys which claim that a sizable percentage of traffic from Delhi is originating from Punjab – which travels by road. The survey can be supported by the sheer number of buses which ply from Delhi. However, a small fleet, a new route, low cost long haul will need year round traffic and not just the winter migratory traffic. For this to happen, more tourists and more trips from diaspora are needed and not just more trips but those flying need to opt for Hansa or flypop! 

Here is wishing the two new airlines the very best as they embark towards their maiden journey!

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