Flight Plan

The new birds in the sky

| Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 17, 2016

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Indian passengers are getting to fly the latest aircraft, and not without reason, writes Ashwini Phadnis

Airlines don’t employ their best resources in India; the aircraft they deploy are old and rickety; fliers here are willing to overlook such treatment and are, by and large, an undemanding lot. Right?

Wrong. The newest and best aircraft are now regularly finding their way to India even before they make it to the developed world. Take the case of Lufthansa. It has shortlisted Delhi and Boston as the two routes on which it will deploy its latest aircraft, the Airbus A350.

It’s all about growth

And there are many reasons for this. One, India is now one of the fastest-growing airline markets in the world and operators can no longer afford to fly substandard planes in it. In fact in March 2016 domestic air travel in India expanded 27.4 per cent over the same month last year, making it the fastest growing air market in the world, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Two, Indian fliers are no longer satisfied with just the basic amenities — their growing financial strength has refined their tastes. Three, carriers from the Gulf, such as Emirates and Etihad, have raised the bar by offering the best to the Indian traveller.

Wolfgang Will, Director of South Asia at Lufthansa, says that it is important to deploy the newest product in India to remain competitive not only in terms of pricing, but also quality. “India is a price sensitive market but expectations of quality are also high. Given the competitive environment in India it helps to get the new aircraft and new products over here,” he points out. “India is getting these newer aircraft because it helps the airline take on competition much better.” No wonder then, that the largest civilian aircraft — the A380 — has now become a common sight at Indian airports.

Over the past few months, global airlines like Air Canada and British Airways have deployed their latest aircraft in the Indian market.

Late last year, Delhi became the first route in British Airways’ global network to receive not only the Boeing 787-900 but also the new first-class that was rolled out with the aircraft. “If you want to be a global airline, India is a core part of that proposition,” says Robert Williams, Head, Asia and Pacific, Sales, British Airways.

Moran Birger, Commercial Manager for South Asia at British Airways, says the growing economy is another key reason. “India is the second-largest market outside the UK and the US for British Airways with 49 weekly services. It is fundamentally about the economy which is getting stronger and stronger. More and more people are having a higher disposable income. When people have a higher disposable income you have a propensity to spend it on travel.”

The arrival of its first Boeing 787-900 also helped Air Canada restart non-stop services between Toronto and Delhi last November. And like in the case of British Airways, Delhi was the first city globally to which Air Canada deployed its newest asset. 

Vijay Bathija, Vice President, Commercial, Air Canada, Leisure Group, says that apart from new technology, Boeing 787-900s cost about 15 per cent cheaper per unit. “It is a good combination of cost as well as configuration and product on board,” he says.

Duncan Bureau, Vice President, Global Sales, Air Canada adds that the new aircraft also has more space for cargo which allows Air Canada to operate more profitably. “This equipment, because of the economics attached to it, makes this market doable,” he points out.

More to come

Lufthansa will take delivery of the A350 aircraft in late 2016 and is expected to start services to Delhi and Boston in early 2017 from its base in Munich. Among the many features of the A350 is that it is more economical to fly than any other type of aircraft. Its deployment will mark the airline’s entry into the 2-litre class — the new aircraft will consume only 2.9 litres of kerosene per passenger and 100 km flown. This is about 25 per cent lower than in the models currently used, Lufthansa said in a statement.

It will also come equipped with the latest Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines and an aerodynamic design to reduce noise to levels well below prescribed limits.

“As a result the noise footprint generated by the aircraft is up to 50 per cent smaller than that of comparable aircraft. Furthermore, new insulation methods and sound absorbing materials make the aircraft cabin particularly quiet,” the airline said.

Besides, the new aircraft also help airlines deal with high operating costs in India. “The new aircraft are also more economically productive because operating costs are lower. It is known that to operate to and from India is expensive,” says Lufthansa’s Will. “There are high fuel costs, airport fees which are very high, all of which put pressure on profitability. So, we are trying to deploy the newest aircraft which have very good profitability records, because it is needed.”

Published on May 17, 2016
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