Flight Plan

Flying into a year of surprises

Ashwini Phadnis Tanya Thomas | Updated on March 10, 2018

With more international and regional connectivity and a far superior flying experience, Indian travellers have much in store in 2018, write Ashwini Phadnis and Tanya Thomas

Indian air travellers have a lot to look forward to in 2018. To begin with, Vistara and AirAsia India are all set to launch their international operations, giving Indian travellers more choice while travelling abroad. At the moment, Air India, Air India Express, IndiGo, SpiceJet and Jet Airways fly on international routes.

In his first-ever interaction with the Indian media, Leslie Thng, CEO, Vistara, told Business Line: “We are gearing up to launch our international operations while we further expand our network in the domestic market by increasing frequencies on existing routes, and by adding new destinations, the first of which will be launched in the next couple of months.”

In an interview in early December, Amar Abrol, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Air Asia India, said the airline plans to launch international services either from Bengaluru or Kolkata, with daily services to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Moreover, the airline is planning to offer more connectivity though it is still evaluating the new destinations and flights, he said.

All this means not only more choice in international travel, but also greater connectivity within India. As India advances towards becoming the third-largest aviation market by 2018, passengers can expect better connectivity to tier 2 cities with airlines adding frequencies,” said Ankur Bhatia, Executive Director, Bird Group.

According to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, India will induct 90-100 aircraft in 2018, something which has never happened before. “My assessment is that 60 narrow body and almost 30-40 turbo prop will be added in India,” said Kapil Kaul, Chief Executive Officer, CAPA.

Helping provide greater connectivity within India will be the government’s UDAN scheme.

The government is pinning its hopes that the regional air connectivity scheme, which seeks to get the common man to fly, will provide a boost to the aviation market. The scheme seeks to encourage operators to connect smaller cities and even provides government funding, provided at least 50 per cent of the tickets on the UDAN flights are sold below ₹2,500 for an hour of flying.

More comfort

What is even better is that flyers can look forward to more comfortable domestic flights. Jet Airways and SpiceJet are inducting the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which offers a host of new features, including touch-screen attendant control panels, easy access with luggage storage bins and bin latches opening with a push or a pull, and controls for reading lights and ventilation.

SpiceJet passengers can also look forward to a more comfortable flight on its newer Q400 aircraft, while Zoom Air passengers can look forward to flying the bigger CRJ 1000. Traditionally aircraft such as Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 are used to link metros or larger cities and Q 400 and CRJ 1000 to connect smaller towns.

“You will see a far-superior product from us in 2018 than you have previously. Passengers can expect the Boeing 737 MAX, which is a far-superior aircraft. You can also expect Q400 Bombardier, which again is more superior to its existing aircraft. The induction of these two aircraft will enhance passenger experience. In addition, you will see many more destinations and a lot more frequencies to the existing destinations,” said Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, SpiceJet.

Finer details

However, Indian aviation players are not just concentrating on inducting newer aircraft – they are also paying equal attention to finer details. For instance, guests flying on Jet Airways can look forward to a livelier and far more engaging inflight experience comprising not only a superior JetScreen inflight entertainment (IFE) experience but also enhancements in catering and in-flight shopping, a Jet Airways spokesperson said.

“Starting 2018, travellers with Jet Airways will also experience a whole gamut of revitalised menus comprising local and international flavours as part of a comprehensive refresh, which is expected to take fine-dining experience for travellers to newer heights,” the spokesperson added.

Jet Airways, which celebrates 25 years of its operations in May 2018, is also overhauling its entire international inflight experience with a completely new line of tableware, including glassware, linen and paper products in a phased manner. Vistara’s Thng adds: “The year 2018 will be a milestone year for Vistara, in ways more than one. We step into the next phase of our growth, which is strongly reflected in our new brand campaign that brings out a stronger, bolder brand Vistara.”

Zoom Air, the relatively new entrant to the airline sector in India, is also planning to enhance its in-flight entertainment experience by offering free wi-fi-based entertainment from April next year, said Koustav M Dhar, Chief Executive and Director, Zoom Air. It is also planning to start Red Eye flights from Pune and Kolkata to Delhi from the middle of January. Globally a Red Eye flight is one which departs past midnight and reaches the destination in the early hours next day.

Old debates

However, amidst all these new developments, some old debates will continue to raise their heads, with the main one being about air fares. While Abhijit Mishra, Country Director, KAYAK India, sounds a note of caution when he says that consumers may have to pay slightly more with jet fuel prices rising over the last few months, Bhatia takes the opposite view: “Air fares are expected to get cheaper with airlines flying the domestic skies as well as government pushing them to adopt passenger-friendly norms such as lower cancellation fee.”

And the government will continue working on the divestment of Air India and Pawan Hans Helicopter Limited during 2018, although RN Choubey, Secretary, Civil Aviation, is clear that this will only happen if the price is right. He, however, declines to say what is the right price for the two government-owned entities.

Published on December 27, 2017

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