As India’s economy booms, it is beginning to attract an aviation service that until now seemed to make sense only for high-yield, high-traffic sectors such as London-New York.
No, it’s not the Concorde, but its not that much worse: all-business class flights.
All Nippon Airways, Japan’s second largest airline, launched its first flight between Tokyo Narita Airport and Mumbai last week, and made it an all-business class-flight, with a Boeing 737 fitted with just 36 seats. For now, it is the only all-business class flight anywhere in Asia.
And Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the German national airline that is the biggest player in India’s international traffic, is finalizing plans to launch an all- business class flight between its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich to an airport in
India, and probably onwards to a location in the US.
Comfort pays: A passenger on Lufthansa’s business class flat bed.
“We feel India is the perfect market for such a deployment,” said Werner Heesen, director for South Asia at Lufthansa, which currently offers only one other all-business class flight, between Dusseldorf in Germany and Newark, outside New York City.
The airline will use either a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A319, he said, and might consider airports other than Mumbai or Delhi. Most likely, said another Lufthansa official who declined to be named, it would fly to Bangalore, taking advantage of a new airport there that will be ready early next year. Lufthansa flies regularly to five other cities in India - the four metros and Hyderabad.
Already, Lufthansa has found demand for business class seats on its flights between Bangalore to San Francisco, with a layover in Germany, far outstrips supply, because of the number of Indian software engineers flying to Silicon Valley.
Business class seats on that flight, often called the Bangalore Express, are often $2,000 or Rs80,630 more than the Singapore Airlines flight to Bangalore, and economy seats are several hundred dollars higher.
“An all-business class flight originating from Bangalore is good news,” said Mohan Sekhar, chief delivery officer of iGATE Global Solutions Ltd. “It is time saving and convenient.” Sekhar, based in Bangalore, frequents the US at least once in two months to meet customers.
Heesen said Lufthansa was waiting for an increase in the current bilateral agreement between India and Germany, which would allow for more flights to be added.
Airlines have experimented with all-business class flights internationally and have found the results to be a mixed bag. To compete with Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, Air France-KLM group and British Airways Plc.’s multiple flights between London Heathrow and New York or Paris, startups such as Silverjet Ltd, Eos Airlines and L’Avion offer all- business class flights to woo the most lucrative customers away from the big airlines.
These airlines fly smaller aircraft, and so their fuel costs are lower. And because they have no economy seats, they spend less time loading up passengers. Their tickets tend to be cheaper than those at Virgin Atlantic or British Airways by several thousand dollars—Silverjet’s round trip ticket between an airport 20 miles outside London to Newark starts at about $1,200, while a similar flight on Continental (but to Heathrow) business class would start at $3,500. On the other hand, these are more susceptible in case of a maintenance issue— with very few all-business class jets out there, replacement aircraft are tough to find.
It is not clear yet what Lufthansa would charge for its tickets. All Nippon Airways tickets between Mumbai and Tokyo start at $3,600, not much less than a business class seat on Japan Airlines Ltd. “Our main target is Japanese business people flying from Japan to India as there are already many Japanese companies investing in the Mumbai area,” said Ryoichi Fujisaki, a spokesman for All Nippon Airways.