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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Brian Kelly is a perfect case of
perfection passion and popularity converting a Wall Street road warrior to a Miles and Points guy, more so as “The Points Guy”.
Before catching up with him, it was fascinating to read how a 13 year old Brian figured out to use his father’s points to take the whole family for a vacation to Grand Cayman. Equally fascinating was his transformation from a Wall Street HR Manager with a cushy job, to a Full time blogger after frequent hounding up by his family and friends first and later by the readers of his then part-time blog to help them out with their points. Boy, has that turned out well or what?
Brian’s website, ThePointsGuy turned full time in mid 2011 and now gets more than 4,00,000 unique visitors every month. Besides his own, Brian has also contributed to The New York Times, Conde’ Nast Traveler, The Los Angeles Times and The Independent. He is often invited for major travel conferences and consults regularly with top airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Excerpts from our chat:
- Brian, what attracts you to travelling?
Brian – The main thing I love about travel is meeting new people, exploring new cities and trying different foods – all while accruing miles doing so.
- Do you fancy airplanes or does the destination hold greater excitement for you?
Brian – For me travel is the destination, if I could teleport I absolutely would. That being said, because I’m able to fly a lot of great Business and First Class products I don’t dread getting on the plane but if I could avoid it I would. I’ve met a lot of good friends on planes including one of my best friends and business manager, and sat next to countless celebrities but the most interesting people I find are fellow frequent flyers.
- I suspect catching up with Madonna would rank right up there for you. Which airline you fancy most for flying?
Brian – My favourite airline is Cathay Pacific because of their First class product, which has to be the most comfortable product I’ve ever flown. Emirates first is on my to do list and I hope to experience that within the next year or so.
- And your preferred airport would be?
Brian – Most US airports are overcrowded and uninspired but I really like the new Sky Deck at JFK that is my favourite lounge to visit in US. Internationally I love the Concord lounge at Heathrow T5 because it’s perfect for plane watching.
- If you could improve one area at airports what would it be? (Besides wifi)
Brian – More sky lounges for plane watchers! I would also love to see more pet relief areas within the terminal since most are outside in parking garages, which doesn’t help when connecting.
- Which is your favourite aircraft to fly on?
Brian – I’m old school – I love the Boeing 747, I’m an upper deck kind of guy and I like the enclosed quaint feel it has.
Flying Lufthansa First Class last summer with the lie flat bed and spacious seat was definitely a highlight for me. I still haven’t tried out the 747-8 but its on my to do list.
- From a wall street road warrior to a professional frequent flyer (if I may say so), what tips would you give to people at large who want to travel without spending too much?
Brian – Right off the bat you should sign up for point earning credit cards and charge every expense possible on them so you can maximise the points you earn. You should also get credit cards that have bonus categories for the things you spend the most on whether it be dining, travel, groceries, etc. I recommend signing up for the the Chase Sapphire Preferred which gives 2x points on travel and dining and there is a current sign up bonus of 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.
- All though most of your credit card tips are not applicable for the Indian market, I still keep reading them for kicks and I remember your British Airways card tip, where 50000 miles was an upfront bonus and then you can cut up the card few months later. That was a pretty awesome offer.
That reminds me; tell me your recommended economy, premium economy, business and first class products in the world?
Brian – Economy – I don’t know I’m 6’7 and don’t fly economy often enough to judge but I’ve heard that Emirates is pretty good
Premium Economy – I’ve only flown KLM Economy Comfort and really enjoyed it. Nice touch was that it was free for Delta Platinum/Diamond Medallions
Business Class – I would have to go with EVA airways because its comfortable and they serve Dom Perignon champagne
First Class – Emirates takes the cake for my First class choice. Besides the roomy seat that extends to a comfortable bed that I can actually fit in, you can take a shower on their A380.
- Do you have a favorite city to travel?
Brian – Madrid is the place I visit the most since my best friend lives there. I love the energy, culture, food, and nightlife there – I can never get enough. I also studied abroad there in college, which is when my love for the city began.
- Do you consult any website, guidebook etc. before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?
Brian – Whenever I’m taking a trip to an obscure destination I like to ask my readers for recommendations because they are well traveled and I trust their opinions. I also check FlyerTalk to see if there are any relevant threads.
- You have a huge social media presence, what role do you think social media/twitter has played in propagating Travel, and specifically award travel?
Brian – Social media/Twitter has greatly increased airline’s customer service and allowed them to be more proactive and responsive to customer complaints. In the past, customers had to submit complaints and wait weeks for a response. Now you can tweet airlines while in the airport and get issues resolved as they are happening.
(Vishal’s note: Read this quick piece on Delta’s fantastic social media customer service effort).
- Finally, as this is GlobeTrotters on “Twitter”, your 3 favourite twitter user accounts?
Brian – @skift – for travel industry news
@theflightdeal – for cheap flights
@NYCaviation – for breaking aviation news
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- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Brett Snyder (The Cranky Flier) (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Johnny Jet (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Gary Arndt (Everything-Everywhere) (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Gary Leff (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Ben Schlappig (One Mile at a Time) (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Shashank Nigam (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter – an Introduction (vishal1mehra.com)
19th August means Aviation day, and although it is more of a US based tradition, Aviation Geeks should know no boundaries.
I would like to share with you one of my life’s greatest regrets, of not flying on The World’s most technically advanced aircraft ever built, The Icon of Aviation and The Marvel of Engineering, Concorde. Unfortunately, it seems I would never be able to fly on the supersonic airliner in the distant future too.
As someone rightly pointed out to me few days back, “with the retirement of Concorde, the aviation industry took a step back for the first time in it’s history”.
I couldn’t agree more.
In fact, during a recent conversation with Brett Snyder, he also revealed that his most memorable flight was on a British Airways Concorde, from London Heathrow LHR to New York JFK.
So, if you have 30 minutes today, spend them well and watch this video on “The Story of Final Concorde”.
In fact, if you’re an enthusiast, I can positively recommend you to subscribe to “The Concorde Channel” on YouTube for some excellent content on the great aircraft.
Have a great day folks, and keep flying.
Note: As I now realize, the gentleman I refer to above is none other than Mr Bangalore Aviation himself, Devesh Agarwal. His piece on the Concorde, although written few years back, is still is an emotional read.
Flying Iberia was supposed to be a flight of many firsts for me so when I was given an option between Vueling and Iberia, I chose Iberia gleefully to be my 32nd airline. This was part of my recent trip to Barcelona and an open jaw return from Lisbon, on Emirates. I have made some observations about Emirates and its varying consistency. You can read them here.
This was my first time flying Iberia, my first time flying to Madrid, my first time flying to Lisbon and of course, my first ever ride in Business Class.
I also chose to have a slightly longer layover at Madrid Barajas Airport, almost three hours, as it was my first time at that airport and I wanted some extra time to check out the terminal’s famous wavy ceilings and of course the flagship Iberia Sala Lounge.Reaching the Barcelona El Prat Airport two hours in advance, so I could check out the Business Class Lounge, had its advantages. There were no passengers in the premium check-in lane and I must admit feeling a little bit giddy with my first ever foray into it. The lady at the counter was nice enough to suggest that my mobile boarding pass may not be comfortable for everyone at the airport and offered me the old-school paper boarding passes. My baggage got tagged as priority for the first time ever and I could not avoid a smile seeing that.
The priority security line was quick and I was through in five minutes for my long walk to the “Puente Aereo” area, which literally means Air Bridge in Spanish. As the Madrid-Barcelona route is the second busiest route in Europe, there’s a separate section of the airport, which handles these shuttle flights. To cater to the high corporate demand, the lounge is nearby these gates.As I entered the lounge, my first impression was the lounge being relatively small but airy.
This was going to be my first flight in business class but I possess reasonable experience about Lounges, thanks to some kind airport/airline folks in the past, and credit card rewards.
The lounge had very few occupants. I decided to park myself at the far end of the lounge, looking out to roads connecting with the airport. Unfortunately this lounge had no direct view of the apron or the airplanes parked.
The lounge however had a reasonable collection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. They had a reasonable availability of juices, along with chocolate drinks and water on one end of shelf.
Opposite that, the fridge contained aerated soft beverages, milk, water and beer.
The lounge also had a small bar area with choices of wines, spirits but the star attraction for me was of course local Spanish cava (Spanish sparkling wine). The bottle was dipped in ice-cold water for that perfect crisp taste.
However, this lounge lacked severely in food options. The shelf next to the bar had few cabinets of breads, croissants and pastries, along with some ready-to-go munch options and I especially took liking to these potato crisps.
There was a nice little coffee and tea machine available as well, with a variety of flavor options, for those who were looking for a hot drink.
Unsurprisingly there was very little to read in English. All the newspapers were non-English, ditto for magazines. The only option in English was Iberia’s own magazine, which I decided to skip for that time.
With 15 minutes to go until boarding, I decided to pour myself a glass of cava.
Free WI-Fi in the lounge enabled me to check on my emails and get some quick pending work done. Barcelona airport also offers free WI-Fi to travelers, but it’s limited to 15 minutes in a day, per device. After that it’s chargeable.Few minutes later sure enough my flight was called out and I proceeded to the nearby gate to embark on my first A320 for the evening.Stay tuned for the remaining two parts of this Iberian journey, including trip report and Iberia’s flagship Madrid Lounge report.
Indian Carriers, followed by Foreign Carriers