Getting Heathrow slots does not mean IndiGo will fly there: IndiGo CCO

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on November 06, 2020

William Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo

London remains aspiration; there are no plans for separate cargo division, says William Boulter

Pointing out that IndiGo is currently at 57 to 58 per cent of its pre-Covid flying level, William Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo, talks about the airline’s cargo plans and domestic fare caps and clarifies on operations to London in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

Cargo and charters are two new areas that are helping generate revenues and revenue passenger kilometres. Is IndiGo considering having separate cargo and charter divisions?

No. The cargo business has developed strongly through the crisis because of the shortage in belly capacity, both domestically and internationally. Cargo that was previously being shipped in the belly of passenger aircraft had nowhere to go. That is why we came up with cargo in cabin business, which was basically converting around 10 of our aircraft to take cargo in the cabin. We hope to continue some of that when normality returns. But we do not think that demand will be as high because we are already seeing belly capacity come back, which we are filling with cargo on routes where there is demand.

IndiGo keen to operate more flights, say officials

So, the number of cargo aircraft will remain at 10 or come down but not go up?

We will adapt our flying and fleet according to market demand. Just looking at the immediate past, what has happened is that the belly capacity has gone out. I think there is one misapprehension in the market that suddenly there has been an increase in cargo demand. There hasn’t been. Globally, if you look at the numbers, they are down by 20 to 30 per cent because of slower economic activity.

But what has changed is that cargo cannot be flown on passenger aircraft because they are not flying globally. That is why the freighter market has been very strong. In India, we have seen a kind of microcosm of that. Indian cargo demand over the summer was not appreciably higher than last year. But the difference was that there were fewer aircraft to fly it on and that is why we have the cargo in cabin missions and charters.

Jet Airways could start flying next year. IndiGo and other Indian airlines have Jet slots. How many slots do you have and will IndiGo be willing to give them up?

The whole issue of Jet returning is still uncertain.

Can you throw some light on your operations to Heathrow?

Slots at Heathrow are currently available on an ad hoc basis for a single season. What are not available are permanent slots. As before, from time to time, we apply for slots if we think there is a possibility of services being commenced. But just because we apply for slots does not mean we have a firm plan…. It does not mean those services are definite as there are a number of other considerations.

As we have always said, widebodies (aircraft) remain an aspiration, London services remain an aspiration. But there is no firm plan right now.

We were allocated some ad hoc slots for winter 20/21 but these were the result of a provisional filing some time back. We also held Gatwick slots in winter 18/19, but didn’t operate.

What is your view on aircraft leasing in India in the context of the government coming up with the GIFT city in Gujarat? Do you think IndiGo could lease aircraft through that route?

We watch the developments with interest.

After the recent tax cuts to the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul industry, will IndiGo look at getting more maintenance services in India?

We are always interested in doing more maintenance within the country. We will take what measures we can to do that.

What are the forward bookings looking like in the domestic sector? Are you seeing a pick-up during the festival season?

Yes. What has changed since Covid is that the booking windows are shorter than they were. We are not getting many bookings three months out. People are booking closer like a week out or a few days out from the flight.

On Thursday, IndiGo issued a statement on IATA BSP. Can you explain what difference it will make to the Indian market?

IATA’s Billing and Settlement Plan (BSP) is a way for airlines collecting payments from agencies/travel agencies in a more automated way. It allows us to get better access to the agency community overseas.

We are not introducing it in India. It is purely for certain of our overseas markets where the level of agency distribution is very high. Within India, we are a low-cost airline and we have distribution through our website, an App, and then through direct connections with online travel agencies and others.

What are your views on the fare cap, which has now been extended till February 24? Is that hurting your finances?

You cannot say it hurts or benefits finances directly. Our view on fare caps is very clear. In the airline world, the market changes from hour-to-hour from the time of departure, whether it is a 7 am departure on a Delhi-Mumbai flight or 2 pm departure there are different levels of demand. It changes by day of week, between a Tuesday, which is always the weakest day in the week generally worldwide to, say, Friday, which is a very busy day, depending on the precise market. Then it also changes season-to-season.

Our belief is that fares should be determined by market forces. When demand is very low we like to stimulate demand by giving low fares and when demand is high we charge higher fares. We are free market players in that sense.

Published on November 06, 2020

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