IndiGo’s recent order for 30 Airbus A350-900 widebody aircraft, with options for 70 more, marks a significant turning point in the Indian aviation industry. This move follows Air India’s (now under Tata Group) substantial order for 40 A350s, highlighting a shared ambition – to capture a larger share of the lucrative long-haul market.

Both airlines’ investments in widebody aircraft represent a strategic push to compete on international routes currently dominated by foreign carriers. The extended range of the A350s allows IndiGo and Air India to offer non-stop flights to distant destinations, potentially leading to a more competitive landscape and a stronger foothold for Indian aviation in the global market.

CAPA, a leading aviation consultancy, views this development as a golden opportunity, stating, “Now is the right time for Indian carriers to seek a larger share of the long and ultra-long haul markets.” They project the Indian long-haul market to require around 300 widebody aircraft by 2032, with IndiGo positioned as a “key player” in this growth (CAPA).

This strategic shift aligns perfectly with the growing demand for international travel within India. JM Financial data shows IndiGo’s international passenger traffic has grown by 5 per cent year-on-year, reaching 40.5% in December 2023. CAPA further reinforces this trend, forecasting a significant acceleration in India’s international air traffic, with a projected growth rate of 12 per cent between 2024 and 2030.

Analysts believe IndiGo’s widebody order signals a move towards a hybrid model. Ameya Joshi, an aviation analyst, explained, “IndiGo’s widebody order... positions them for expansion... This move completes their transformation from a point-to-point carrier to a fully network carrier.” This strategic shift, combined with IndiGo’s strong domestic network, could offer unique travel combinations and contribute to the establishment of a major Indian airport hub.

IndiGo and Air India are expected to compete in different segments. While IndiGo leverages its domestic network as a feeder system, Air India is likely to focus on premium offerings. This differentiation, as Joshi highlighted, positions them to “battle it out in different leagues,” catering to a wider range of travelers and potentially intensifying competition on key routes.

IndiGo and Air India’s strategic expansion aligns with the Indian government’s vision of establishing India as a global aviation hub by 2030. As Jagannarayan Padmanabhan of Crisil Ltd points out, the increased competition “is ripe for the emergence of a central hub airport” to manage connecting flights. This growth in domestic and international traffic, coupled with the development of a central hub, has the potential to transform the Indian aviation landscape, making it a major player on the global stage.

The widebody aircraft orders by IndiGo and Air India mark a pivotal moment for Indian aviation. With a focus on long-haul routes and potentially a central hub airport emerging, the future promises more competition, greater connectivity, and a stronger Indian presence in the global aviation market. The next few years will be crucial in determining how effectively these airlines leverage their new capabilities and how the Indian aviation landscape evolves to accommodate this exciting new chapter.