Why would have IndiGo opted for Delhi and Mumbai for Istanbul operations?

IndiGo – the largest carrier in the country by fleet and domestic market share, is taking a big leap. Starting February 01, 2023, the airline will operate a wet-leased B777-300ER aircraft between Delhi and Istanbul – the hub of Turkish Airlines, from whom the plane has been wet-leased. For an airline that propagated the single fleet model – it has come a long way to operate a wide body, albeit wet-leased. Interestingly, its first brush with widebody involves a Boeing – in an otherwise Airbus-only fleet of 300+ planes.

The airline has been making some subtle and major changes on the operational front for flights between India and Turkey. Let us look at how stormy the route has been before looking at the changes and more

Recap of the route

IndiGo announced flights to Istanbul in January 2019, with services starting in March 2019. The plan ran into rough weather even before the flights could start. The longest flight for the airline and part of its first codeshare arrangement, the inaugural was impacted by the closure of Pakistani airspace post the Balakot strike.

When things normalized, the airline made news for leaving behind the baggage of passengers – which it did for weight considerations since it had to uplift additional fuel to cater to stronger headwinds and when even this stabilized, the pandemic hit leading to the suspension of services. Turkey was not part of the special “Air bubble” arrangement and the services restarted only when normal international services resumed in March 2022.

What is it doing now and what happens in February?

The airline, which had double daily flights to Istanbul from Delhi, decided to split it such as to operate one each from Delhi and Mumbai. The Mumbai flights were launched this year and continue to operate via Ras Al Khaimah (RKT) as even its A321neo struggles to cover the distance to Istanbul. Both flights are timed such that they have a long ground time in Istanbul and have similar arrival times as that of Turkish Airlines. This shows the importance of the flight for Turkish Airlines and also the traffic profile which IndiGo is catering to – largely feeding the European and American departure bank.

IndiGo will operate the B77W with a dual-class configuration. The aircraft is configured with 28 Business class seats and 372 economy class seats. Turkish Airlines has three such planes which earlier served with Kenya Airways. 

Interestingly, IndiGo is not selling Business Class on its website, while Turkish Airlines is selling business class on these IndiGo operated flights – a clear indication of how the airline is benefiting from this move by IndiGo. 

Why the B77W?

The answer to this lies in bilateral rights. The Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between India and Turkey caps frequency from each side at 14 per week. Turkey’s position against Indian interests has meant that the country has not been able to get an increase in seats/flights even when the Indian side (IndiGo) has exhausted its full rights. While the National Civil Aviation Policy talks about renegotiation when the Indian side reaches the 80 percent mark, even with 100 percent utilization from both sides – renegotiation has not happened. Geopolitics is partly to blame for that as Turkey has time and again taken stances at global bodies, which are detrimental to India’s interest. Turkish Airlines has been operating to Delhi since 2003 and to Mumbai since 2006.

The B77W (in the configuration on offer) is the largest aircraft with Turkish Airlines right now. 

Network Thoughts: Dense or spread?

Many have been asking this question – Why can’t IndiGo open a new route, say Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, or Kolkata, and make the offering stronger? For starters, while the Air Services Agreement could restrict Turkish Airlines to Delhi and Mumbai, no such restriction would be applicable to an Indian carrier on point of origin. The answer, then, lies in the concept of strengthening existing stations over having a thin presence at multiple locations.

Turkish is competing against the middle eastern and European carriers and having two more points might give them the spread but won’t give them the pricing power and density needed to attract more passengers – which Delhi and Mumbai give. Apart from being large markets, the deciding factor is that they are existing markets where an incremental seat deployment helps with getting them in a similar league with the capacity of Lufthansa, Air France + KLM, and ahead of Swiss or Finnair. Though this would still be way behind the likes of Emirates!

In opting for denser operations on a route over spreading thin, the airline ensures there is lesser marketing that needs to be done and relies on the codeshare network partner to sell seats besides not having to look at oneself or letting the partner look at taking care of premium passengers (Business Class) at one or two new points. 

The airline launched flights with an afternoon departure from Delhi (1340 hours), slowly getting it to the morning hours. While the 1340 hours departure and subsequent arrival in the wee hours ensured two-way connectivity to most cities from Delhi, the traffic profile seems to have shifted towards passengers traveling beyond Istanbul from the Delhi region – thus the airline shifting timings to mirror those of Turkish Airlines.

Tail Note

Wet-lease operations are “ACMI” which means the Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, and Insurance will be taken care of by Turkish Airlines. However, the fuel, landing, route navigation, and other related charges will have to be borne by IndiGo. With a long ground time in Istanbul – the hub of Turkish Airlines, it is very easy to maintain the aircraft for Turkish Airlines. 

Interestingly, while the aircraft is configured in dual-class, IndiGo is not selling business class – which is exclusively sold by Turkish Airlines. How this premium revenue is shared is open for guessing. The lease rental would not be known in the public domain, but I won’t be surprised if it is a very sweet deal being meted out by Turkish Airlines for IndiGo since it helps Turkish Airlines with additional traffic and doubles the capacity to India amidst all the challenges.

Does it really bode well for IndiGo? Will it lead to an order for a widebody from IndiGo? The answers may not be available immediately, for IndiGo itself may not know the future, just yet. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s