AirAsia India’s Lucknow launch – it’s most well planned ever?

AirAsia India – the low cost carrier which recently received permission from CCI (Competition Commission of India) to merge with Air India group will be launching flights to Lucknow – the capital of Uttar Pradesh starting August 05, 2022. This has been a well planned move with the flights open for sale since mid June, giving ample time to build up loads and market them.

The airline has announced direct flights to both its hub Bengaluru and Delhi along with those to Kolkata, Mumbai and Goa. The airline intends to operate 112 weekly direct flights from lucknow. The city will be the 18th destination for the airline and could well be the last new addition in its current form as it is slated to merge with Air India express in near future.

AirAsia India is the joint venture between the Tata group and Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd. While it had launched with much fanfare in 2014 to take on IndiGo, multiple issues have plagued the airline since then. The airline has also vacated many stations after launching them. These include Nagpur, Indore, Surat, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Agartala. On this backdrop, Lucknow seems to be a choice which has been carefully evaluated and the airline is entering the market with its best foot forward.

Lucknow

Lucknow is the largest city in the largest state (Uttar Pradesh) of the country. It is the eleventh largest city in terms of population in the country with a catchment area which includes Kanpur. Lucknow is known as the “City of Nawabs” and amongst other things is known for its food. 

The economy is driven by a mix of traditional industries as well as modern ones like automotive and aerospace. In addition the seat of power means it attracts its own traffic. 

The city is served by Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport – which is operated by Adani Enterprises since November 2020. It has its own operational challenges as it does not have a parallel taxiway impacting total movements and a third terminal is under construction which will enhance capacity in due course of time. While currently the runway can handle more flights, the terminal is congested for most hours of the day.

Like many other airports in the country, IndiGo is the largest operator at Lucknow and will also be the largest competitor to AirAsia India. Amongst the TATA group, AirAsia India’s entry would mean that all carriers will be present at Lucknow. 

Competition

The Indian domestic market is changing rapidly. July has seen a slump in traffic and airlines pulling out of certain sectors on a temporary basis. This will help absorb the sudden increase in capacity.

There has been a drastic drop in frequencies on many of the sectors which AirAsia India has announced, from the time it announced to the time it is about to operate. Most of the capacity that has gone out of the market is by Go FIRST.

Delhi

AirAsia India will launch with triple daily flights on the Delhi – Lucknow – Delhi sector. The sector is dominated by IndiGo with up to 7 frequencies a day on certain days with an average of six per day. Pre-COVID, the sector had seen even more frequencies from the airline. This is followed by four frequencies of Go FIRST. However, the airline is currently not operating to Lucknow and when it resumes on August 12, it will be with just one flight a day. Air India operates thrice a day while Vistara operates a Daily flight.

Bengaluru

AirAsia India will connect Bengaluru to Lucknow from the first day of ops with a second frequency coming online in September. This is the third busiest sector from Lucknow by passenger numbers and will be a tough one to crack for AirAsia India due to a sudden spike in seat availability within days. 

IndiGo operates triple daily flights and was the one which kickstarted non-stop flights on this sector. Go FIRST is the other operator. Bengaluru is a stronghold for both IndiGo and AirAsia India. Will the weaker player vacate or will AirAsia India delay its second frequency?

Goa

While the airline will start flights to Goa from Aug 05, the route is way down the order in terms of demand. The traffic so far has been just one tenth of that between Delhi and Lucknow! However, Goa is always in demand from anywhere in the country. Concern? Doubling up of capacity and a price war!

Mumbai

This is the second densest route from Lucknow and AirAsia India starts services on Sep 01 with a daily flight which is timed mid-day, making it the weakest player along with Air India. Both IndiGo and Go FIRST had three flights each on the route when AirAsia India announced Lucknow as its new destination. IndiGo since then has upped the ante and launched a fourth frequency which is timed very close to the AirAsia India flights. 

While slot constrained airports tend to have better revenue and probability of getting passengers, the capacity share is too low for AirAsia India on this route to make a dent.

Kolkata

While the Kolkata – Lucknow flight also launched on Sept 01, it will be breaking into the IndiGo monopoly, something which IndiGo has been known to resist tooth and nail and AirAsia India has experienced in the past. The capacity share will be one-third with its sole flight.

Network Thoughts

The airline is on its last legs before the merger. It has faced headwinds like no other and it only has itself to blame for it. Where does it go from here on? The airline has been at the top of OTP charts for the last couple of months but has been flying emptier planes with load factors much lower than competition on a daily basis. 

With the kind of capacity that the airline is adding into Lucknow, it would hope that it can shore up revenues. The integration with Air India Express has started for the airline and these times are always full of challenges in terms of focus. Until then all that one can hope is “Muskuraiye ki aap Lucknow mein hai”

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