Last week, the Indian aviation community was abuzz with the news that the government had finally permitted operations of the Airbus A380 in to India. In its announcement, the ministry mentioned Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, and Emirates as potential candidates in operating the aircraft to India, but there are seven other present operators of the giant, all of whom, with the exception of Qantas Airways, operate to India. Three of the Five near future A380 operators, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Asiana also operate to India.
The question for many aviation enthusiasts is which airline will fly in world’s largest passenger airliner, into one of the world’s most exciting aviation markets, India?
Airline wise A380 cabin configurations
Before we proceed, it is important to realise the sheer size of the A380. The aircraft is classified as a VLA (very large aircraft) which includes the venerable Boeing 747 jumbo-jet. While Airbus shows the typical seating of A380 at 555 seats in a three-class configuration, most airlines have configured their aircraft from a low 407 seats at Korean Air to a maximum of 526 at Lufthansa. The info-graphic on the right shows the various cabin configurations of the A380 operators. The size of the aircraft makes it a challenge for any airline to fill.
Potential A380 airports in India
In its order, the ministry of civil aviation allowed the operations of the super-jumbo at the four major Indian gateway airports capable of handling the A380 – New Delhi, the busiest, Mumbai, the second busiest, Bangalore, the third busiest domestic and fourth internationally, and Hyderabad, the sixth. Chennai and Kolkata are excluded since they lack the airside capability to land this huge plane.
Hyderabad. For the foreseeable future (about 36 months), we believe Hyderabad lacks an adequate catchment especially in the premium classes to allow an airline to profitably operate the A380 consistently.
Bangalore. On the face of it, Bangalore is in a similar situation as Hyderabad, but the IT city is very different from the rest of India, driven by business traffic, it has a high business class demand with virtually negligible first class demand. This same business and IT profile drives demand to extreme volumes on weekends with low weekday loads. The hi-tech nature of Bangalore’s economy also ensures it has the highest percentage of air cargo of India, which airlines carry as belly-hold for additional revenues. Both British Airways and Lufthansa operate the Boeing 747 to the IT city. Given the flexibility of the large A380 fleet, there is a small possibility that Emirates may operate an A380 during the high traffic winter months and during the weekends.
New Delhi and Mumbai. In its global market forecast (GMF), Airbus rated New Delhi and Mumbai in the list of top 20 VLA (very large aircraft) airports by 2030. These two biggest airports in India have the traffic volumes in all the three classes to sustain regular A380 operations. The issue will be which airlines will choose between these two cities.
Potential airlines to operate the A380 to India
There are currently ten operators of the A380. Air France, British Airways, China Southern, Emirates, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. Five more operators, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Air Austral, Skymark Airlines and Asiana will join the A380 family soon. Of these 15, Air Austral, Qantas, and Skymark don’t operate to India, and we will exclude them for now.
We next eliminate those airlines that we are reasonably sure will not operate an A380, at least in the foreseeable future to Indian airports.
Air France, focuses its bigger aircraft on north American and far east routes. It only operates its mid-sized A330s to India. Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways focus their A380s in slot constrained high volume airports like London Heathrow, Paris Charles De Gaulle, and Frankfurt. China Southern, Korean Air, and Asiana have insufficient traffic rights to India and focus their VLAs on north American and European destinations.
Qatar and Etihad are remote possibilities for the near future as they too will initially deploy their A380s to slot congested London, Paris, Frankfurt and possibly New York. Rumours about Etihad giving one of their A380’s to their Indian partner, Jet Airways, appear to be just that for now, rumours.
This leaves us with four possible candidates.
British Airways (BA) is the most understated, yet most exciting prospect of bringing A380 to India. The whole universe conspires to make the mechanics work on the routes for BA. The stage lengths of about eight to ten hours are just right. India is an important destination for the airline, and it is demonstrating this by flying its latest aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Hyderabad starting March. London is one of the most visited cities by Indians, not to mention the large Indian origin diaspora living in the United Kingdom, and Heathrow is the A380 capital of the world with virtually every airline flying its A380 to it. Despite a short-sighted transit immigrant visa requirement and ridiculous air passenger fees, Heathrow is a major transit point for passengers between India and North America.
While Mumbai gets the newer 777-300ER featuring the airline’s updated cabin product, New Delhi lags behind having to make do with older 747-400s and 777-200s. The intelligent fleet deployment of British Airways must be noted. During the summers, BA deploys its larger aircraft across the Atlantic catering to massive Trans-Atlantic tourist traffic, while winters sees these aircraft in traditional “home coming” destinations in South Asia, China, and ASEAN.
Despite the airline officially saying
“We welcome the decision of the Indian government to allow A380s to operate in India. Our customers can already enjoy the comfort and luxury of our A380s on flights to Los Angeles and Hong Kong and we will be starting A380 services to Johannesburg in February and Washington in September. “We currently have four A380s and another four will join our fleet this year. We are assessing a range of routes for the aircraft but at this stage it is too early to speculate which cities we will add to its network.”
we are fairly confident of seeing a Union Jack liveried A380 at New Delhi in 2015, if not in the winter schedule.
Emirates (EK) is the world’s largest operator of the A380, and is also the biggest foreign airline operating in India, with some calling it the unofficial national airline of India. The airline operates four daily flights to New Delhi and five dailies to Mumbai, almost all of them using the 777s.
Though on the surface, the short distances from Mumbai and Delhi to Dubai may not justify the A380 which is primarily designed for longer distances, Emirates has been using its A380 ingeniously on shorter routes and we feel, will be able to make Dubai to Mumbai and Delhi work.
Emirates has suffered an image of inconsistent cabin product on its India flights, and the A380 will allow the airline to repair this perception.
With over 44 A380s already in its fleet it is all but certain, the airline will commence an A380 service to both Mumbai and New Delhi. However, since the existing bi-lateral air services agreement (ASA) cap being long exhausted, Emirates will have to consolidate its flights to accommodate the large behemoth. We expect EK to steal the thunder and be the first to operate an A380 to India.
Lufthansa (LH) has always declared its intentions to operate the A380 to India. It was forced to bring its other VLA, the Boeing 747-8i, to New Delhi when the government held firm in its short-sighted denial of A380 operations. This past week saw Lufthansa become the first airline to publicly declare their intentions of bringing Airbus A380 to “major Indian markets”, and most likely from the winter schedule which starts in end October.
The carrier operates an A330-300 featuring its new business class product (which is not on its A380) to both Mumbai and Delhi, with Chennai starting in March 2014. The 747-8i to Delhi also has the new business class and the new first class product (which is also on their A380), while the 747-400 to Mumbai is two generations behind, which as per few trip reports on Flyer Talk, does not even have personal IFE screens in Economy, is a sure shot recipe for customer dissatisfaction, especially on Intercontinental routes.
We expect Lufthansa to operate one A380 to India. It may upgrade Delhi to an A380 and move the 747-8i to replace the 747-400 at Mumbai, or it might directly upgrade Mumbai to an A380. The Indo-German bi-lateral ASA has to be amended to include the A380. It’s an interesting possibility, one that the industry, especially Lufthansa’s MEB3 friends will be watching closely.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) was the launch customer of the A380, has 19 aircraft in their fleet, and they have just ordered another five. SIA is also in partnership with the Tatas to commence a full service airline in India.
The airline has a strategy of offering its best products to the political and commercial capitals of Asian countries. Following this, SIA has been aggressively expanding at Mumbai where it offers triple daily flights to Singapore, while Delhi is at 19 weekly flights currently and will become triple-daily from the summer schedule, all on Boeing 777s. At both cities, the pattern is a morning flight on a smaller 777-200 with two night/mid-night flights being scheduled within three hours of each other.
Delhi though still does not receive the airline’s 777-300ER flagship which features their newest cabin product, so it is very likely the airline will choose to club the two night/mid-night flights and offer Delhi the airline’s best cabin product which includes the SQ Suites. No on-board frolicking please, the airline’s rules clearly prohibit joining the ‘mile high club’.
The dilemma the airline faces is that its current A380 fleet is fully deployed. The additional five orders are relatively recent and delivery is not expected any time soon. The airline will have to sacrifice one flight from another destination to service India in the short-term, or may choose to deploy A380s later.
Related Post: A380 finally flies into New Delhi T3
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When I asked Devesh what led him to start Bangalore Aviation, his answer was simply because his friends and family increasingly started coming to him for all aviation related advice and discussions, he noticed the absence of an India specific aviation blog, thus the idea of Bangalore Aviation was germinated. When your a global frequent flier with over 4 million miles against your name, all that is naturally supposed to happen.
My personal view, knowing him for few years now, is that and more. I think it’s a cocktail of what he describes as well as what he doesn’t. You see Devesh loves to share his wealth of knowledge, and those who know him would describe him as a larger than life, social and jovial man who loves his food and flights. Through a blog he found just the right outlet to vent out. Other parts of the puzzle just fit in their places perfectly.
Bangalore Aviation is described by him as “By aviation enthusiasts, for aviation enthusiasts”, started on March 14, 2008, with the intent of being a “no-spin” zone of Indian aviation media.
Like many leading bloggers, managing Bangalore Aviation is not Devesh’s day job. He is a technology product management expert and has been awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010.
Devesh also has been recognized as one of the must follow aviation pros on twitter in Mashable for good measure.
Enjoy this conversation:
- Devesh, what has been your personal motivation to travel and to fly?
Devesh – From childhood I have loved planes, the magic of flight, the physics of flying. I also have a pair of glider pilot wings, and I just love to fly. I still remember my first flight as an eight year old boarding Air India Boeing 747 Emperor Ashoka. It is fascinating that we can travel to countries on the other side of the earth in less than 24 hours, a feat that was fraught with danger less than 60 years ago. It is a pity that air travel over the years has become less glamorous and there are many airlines in the world today, which treat passengers as “self-loading cargo”, but thankfully there are also those that do not.
- So your not a fan of Ryan Air, I’m actually yet to meet someone who is. I believe you would be the sorts to enjoy your plane ride. Any memorable experience?
Devesh – I was on the inaugural Los Angeles-Singapore non-stop A340-500 Singapore Airline flight. The inbound flight from Singapore was four hours early due to favourable winds, which meant the winds would be against us while going back. The pilots decided to take an equatorial route, which was longer than the polar route but had less opposing winds and were nearer to major airports should we need to land to re-fuel.
During another of my SIA flights between Frankfurt and JFK. About 25% of the business class seats stopped working, two passengers fell ill midway, and one in fact died from a heart attack. All this while the crew was being audited and inspected by an in-flight quality control auditor. Hats off to that crew for their performance. They were on their feet for the full eight hours and running back and forth the entire length of the B744 and not skipping a beat on their very high service levels while still attending to the passenger emergencies and seat failures.
These are just two of my long list of experiences, by Indian newspaper standards I have had more “miraculous escapes” than the proverbial cat.
- All that makes my next question redundant, I was going to ask your favourite airline…
Devesh – Yes, it’s Singapore Airlines. The service level is simply unmatched. On a Singapore to JFK flight, my nine year old son spilt a full glass of coke on himself. My wife had forgotten to pack a change of clothes for him. The crew brought a Givenchy pajama suit they give to first class passengers, and altered the pajamas by hand stitching to fit the young boy!!!!! I have never heard of such an experience on any other airline. To top this off, my wife and children were flying, without me, and on an award business class ticket. So no FFP or revenue influences.
- That actually sounds quite incredible, which would be your preferred airport?
Devesh – It’s Singapore Changi of course, due to their hyper-efficient immigration, baggage delivery, and customs. Even with checked baggage, you are out of the airport within 15 minutes.
- All right Singapore fan boy (just kidding!!), tell me about your all time favourite aircraft.
Devesh – Without a doubt, Concorde. I was very sad to see her being retired. For the first time in history we went backward in technology as there is even till today no replacement aircraft for her, and none appears to be for the next 20 years.
- Let’s get slightly more specific now; which airline according to you has the best economy, premium economy, business and first class products?
Devesh – Best Economy – Singapore Airlines
Best Premium Economy – Cathay Pacific
Best Business Class – 1-2-1 configured Singapore Airlines beats most first class. Also the Upper Class of Virgin Atlantic and their fantastic Club House, and those ladies in red.
Best First Class – The old Pan Am Boeing 747s with the upper deck lounge. Currently, I think Emirates A380 takes the crown. Their seats are narrow compared to other airlines, but any airline that has a shower spa on board and serves Hennessy Paradis cognac (about $850 a 750ml bottle) has to take the “Over the top” crown.
- Lets come back to airports for a second, is there any particular addition that you would like airports to adopt? (Besides Wi-Fi)
Devesh – Restaurants serving real food, not the fast food fried or ready made nonsense. I think with growing travel, appreciation for good food, and airline’s cutting back, a fine dining restaurant at airports will do well.
- You have a successful career and run a successful website, what advise would you give to those who want to travel the world without breaking their bank balance?
Devesh – The travel itself is not expensive. Depending on where you travel the boarding and lodging is. For most I would recommend using a tour package from one of the reputable companies.
- Is there a go-to website, guide book etc. you consult before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?
- That was a clever plug Devesh 🙂, what role do you think social media/twitter has played in propagating Travel?
Devesh – Social media has brought more world cultures to the attention of more people, and hence the desire to travel to what, ten years ago, would have been an unknown place for someone. Same goes with meeting people. Personally I have met some great people, initially online, but then also in person. You are one person where our virtual friendship has transformed in to a real one. Other friends include Shashank Nigam (Simpliflying), and others.
- Finally, as this is GlobeTrotters on “Twitter”, your 3 must follow twitter user accounts?
Devesh – @mashable for all things social media and gadgets
@breakingnews – global developments
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- GlobeTrotters on Twitter – an Introduction (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Shashank Nigam (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Gary Leff (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Johnny Jet (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Brett Snyder (The Cranky Flier) (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Ben Schlappig (One Mile at a Time) (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Brian Kelly (The Points Guy) (vishal1mehra.com)
This post was supposed to be your typical trip report until I heard Tim Clark (President, CEO) talk about future of Emirates and his view about airline alliances among many other things within that 30 minute podcast/interview on Emirates IFE (known as ICE) channel no #1500, the default start on the home screen.
Let me take you back to where this all began. I was flying from New Delhi to Barcelona in early May and during the DXB-BCN leg this post took a life of its own.
I was completely mesmerized by the sheer beauty of this Boeing 777-300, regal on the outside & luxurious on the inside. (Barring the bone crunching 3-4-3 seating arrangement of Emirates).
The IFE on this aircraft was state of the art in its truest sense and I can safely say the best IFE I have experienced till date on all 32 airlines I have flown in. The system is based on 3000i from Panasonic Avionics Corporation.
Even the handset had a small touch screen on it, and was capable of displaying information on its own without interrupting content on the main screen. We were served breakfast and lunch on this flight by a very efficient crew, both meals were good and above par.
& It was during this flight I had my eureka moment. Hearing Tim Clark talk about Emirates future plans, their new destinations, that even with current network they are only half done & of course why Emirates is averse to joining any Airline Alliance.
The meat of his answer revolved around the fact that Emirates was averse to joining any alliance because alliances never helped an airline much, and Emirates feared that transferring your pax from one airline to the other may give them inconsistent experiences, completely opposite to their vision of seamless, comfortable and world-class hospitality that Emirates wants its customers to feel across their network & at their home in Dubai International Airport, Terminal 3.
Fair enough I thought & agreed with his thought process in my mind as I disembarked.
The LIS-DXB flight of this trip was also on a B773.
I had an Open-jaw ticket & was returning to Delhi via Lisbon. The security and immigration was pretty painless, but the walk to the flight gate, which was actually the last of the airport, was quite a walk. Dare I say, it would have dwarfed the walk at Delhi Airport’s T3.
After an efficient boarding process I moved to my seat to see the same world-class IFE greeting me & I remember thinking to myself, “consistently world class indeed”.
But the biggest surprise of the flight was when Cabin crew armed & cross checked doors and I was sitting next to 2 empty seats.
Suddenly the Aviation Geek in me woke up & I stood up to have a look around the cabin to check for loads. It was a Saturday evening flight, with just about 50% occupancy in economy. The guy in the next middle row had all 4 seats for himself.
As we rose up over the balmy and beautiful evening of Lisbon, I fired up ICE and got to hear Tim Clark again. I must admit I loved hearing him speak; his voice was like a gentle massage to my eardrums with a soothing accent. He had me completely sold on Emirates vision and their reasoning for it.
Our crew for the flight was nice and chatty, and the meal service for this flight served as Dinner, was yummy. I had my first Indian meal in 8 days & the chicken tikka masala did not disappoint at all.
The crew also served drinks just before landing into DXB. Overall a flawless flight from Emirates.
AT DXB T3
But then we landed into DXB. We arrived slightly before time & I had 5 hours & 45 minutes left for my early morning connecting flight to New Delhi. Transfer and security was much better this time compared to my outward leg.
Here’s my take on Dubai International T3 after been there 6 times now. I find DXB as one of the world’s most boring airport/terminal. DXB sadly offers nothing for the traveler but shopping. I think that’s where it should take a cue from airports like Munich, Zurich, Amsterdam, Seoul and Changi. Shopping is just ONE part of the experience, not the ENTIRE experience. Being a hub airport for one of the largest airlines in the world should carry responsibilities with it & so far DXB T3 has failed on my watch in many aspects.
With my tired limbs & stressed mind I hopped on the train towards B Gates. I reach our scheduled gate only to hear an emirates employee shouting loudly that our flight is delayed by an hour and 30 minutes, with a gate change.
Later on an Emirates employee tells me all delays at the airport were due to unseasonal fog, which enveloped DXB in the morning & has had a knock on effect on flights throughout the day. Our aircraft was scheduled to arrive from Dammam & its arrival was delayed by 2 hours due to the same problem.
But there’s another dimension to this thought. As the disruptions have been on since morning, Emirates must have known about possible delays for our flight to DEL as well, then why it decided to inform passengers at the very last minute, at their boarding gate?
Also, from my point of view, If Emirates knew about this 2 hour delay much earlier, they could have even given me a hotel accommodation at DXB. Emirates has a policy of granting all economy passengers with a layover of more than 8 hours at DXB, a complimentary hotel stay. Needless to say I was physically exhausted after almost 15 hours of travel & would have loved some shuteye, even for couple of hours. My decision of not going to the Lounge at T1 came to haunt me.
I reach the new gate as per the re-scheduled departure time only to find that the gate has been changed again. So, I reach the 3rd gate of this journey & it finally seems to be the correct one. We start boarding 15 minutes after the re-scheduled departure time, and are already running late. Again. And there is no explanation from the airline staff as well. And to top it all of, we are transferred to buses. It seems our Airbus A330-200 has chosen to park remotely.
Certainly not the world-class consistent experience that Tim Clark promised.
By the time I boarded my DXB-DEL flight, I had lost all sense of time, but it would be safe to say that the flight took off at least 2 hours and 15 minutes post-scheduled departure.
The boarding for this flight was completely mismanaged by the Emirates crew/ground staff. First and Business class passengers were requested to use the front staircase understandably but the entire economy class passengers were required to board the aircraft from the rear.
Even those with early economy seats were turned away from the front door to board from rear. Naturally that had many passengers agitated, as they had to carry their hand baggage from the back of the aircraft, almost to the front.
One of the few positives about the flight I immediately noticed was the 2-4-2 seating arrangement, with a window seat It seemed ideal for me. My luck continued with this flight as well as the seat next to me remained vacant.
But as I sat down, I immediately saw this staring back at me.
From the best to the worst, Emirates had provided me two extreme IFE options & the voice of Tim Clark talking about consistent world-class experience for passengers started ringing in my ears. You see having a mediocre IFE system is one thing, but this was the worst.
Just as we were all set for the taxi to runway, the captain informed us of another 20-minute delay. Apparently the control tower wanted us to wait, if we hadn’t waited enough already. Meanwhile I also took notice of one of the most uncomfortable seats I have been on in an aircraft (not as bad as my Ryan Air flight but close enough) with weird lower back support settings which made a thick uncomfortable cushion pop out & the seat itself was not the best.
Tim Clark & his voice came back to my mind & ears. Shouting.
We were served lunch on this flight & the butter chicken I opted for was very well prepared. The crew of the flight, barring the initial boarding process, was also very friendly and professional.
Did I mention that the IFE on this flight was almost repulsive & I never bothered to even use it once, preferring to read FT on Sunday, provided gratis by Emirates at the boarding gate.
Nothing else of much note in the flight as we had a smooth landing at Delhi and the captain apologized in the end for multiple delays.
One big question lords over my mind after these extreme experiences
Where is the consistent world class seamless (and other adjectives) experience that Emirates loves to boast about? This is not a one-off thing as Emirates operates this very A332 daily to Delhi? I haven’t documented my first flight, DEL-DXB in detail, again on A330-200, but if it wasn’t for catching up on sleep or a chatty co-passenger, I would have been horrified about that as well.
India is supposed to be Emirates biggest market, then why this huge inconsistency? Emirates flies more Indian passengers abroad than any other Indian carrier, Why the Indian passenger is almost taken for granted? Especially considering other global players like Lufthansa fly their top the line aircraft, the Boeing 747-8, to Indian cities.
And it’s just not me pointing out their inconsistencies; plenty of others are talking about it as well. Just that nobody else has devoted such detail to it.
I won’t be surprised if the more nimble (and smaller as of now) gulf carriers like Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways attract more Indian travelers to their much superior product in time to come. For Emirates, I only wish for a consistent passenger experience, only to live up to their own promise, which should be good enough for now.
Overall I would rate my 4 flights with Emirates as the following:
DEL-DXB – 6.5/10
DXB-BCN – 8.5/10
LIS-DXB – 9.5/10
DXB-DEL – 3.5/10
- Emirates delayed me for 24 hours on flight to Sydney (guardian.co.uk)
- Trip Report – YYZ-DXB on Emirates’s Airbus A380 (June 2009) (av8radi.wordpress.com)
- Codeshares and alliances for dummies – Part 2 (rewardingtravels.wordpress.com)