New Delhi: The country’s second largest carrier by passengers flown, Kingfisher Airlines Ltd will launch flights from Mumbai to London, Singapore and Hong Kong, and from Chennai and Bangalore to Sri Lanka in January, ending a freeze on new international operations.
The airline has been granted rights to fly these international routes by the civil aviation ministry on assurances that it would start the flights this winter.
Kingfisher Airlines had put new international operations on hold after launching its inaugural daily flight between Bangalore and London in September. The airline has since been battling a slump in domestic traffic and rising costs and has been preoccupied with defusing a payments row with state-run oil refiners and the Airports Authority of India.
In October, after forming an alliance with bigger rival Jet Airways (India) Ltd, Kingfisher Airlines requested the civil aviation ministry for permission to start flying on other international routes using three Airbus A330-223s that it had grounded. Two other A330-223s have been deployed on the Bangalore-London route.
Broader market: Kingfisher Airlines has also been allowed to offer seven flights a week between Chennai, Bangalore and Colombo, and also Bangalore-Bangkok and Mumbai-Male services. Hemant Mishra / Mint
The ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, or DGCA, asked the airline for assurances that it was capable of sustaining the flights, given the backdrop of payments it owed, said a senior government official who didn’t want to be named. Kingfisher Airlines received the go-ahead after making a presentation to the authorities in November. “We told them clearly that they cannot pull out domestic capacity (to serve international routes) and they have to show us that the flights will be (started) within the winter schedule,” the same government official said.
Under DGCA rules, if an airline does not run an international service for which it is granted rights within the immediate season, it is barred from that route for two years.
Based on the assurances Kingfisher Airlines held out, the government granted it the rights to offer seven flights a week from Mumbai to Singapore, Hong Kong and London. The airline was also allowed to offer seven flights a week between Chennai, Bangalore and Colombo, and also Bangalore-Bangkok and Mumbai-Male services.
Kingfisher Airlines officials were not available for comment on Monday.
The carrier also won permission to run 14 flights a week between Kolkata and Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, on turboprop aircraft, and four services a week to the port city of Chittagong. The airline failed to win rights for flights between New Delhi and Dubai; it was granted Bangalore-Dubai flights earlier this year, which it is still to operate.
The airline will launch the Mumbai-London flight on 5 January, followed by Mumbai-Hong Kong on 12 January and Mumbai-Singapore on 16 January, according to a note circulated by the airline to travel portals, and seen by Mint.
Its flights from Chennai and Bangalore to Colombo, the Sri Lanka capital, will start on 19 January. The airline will use an A320 in an all-economy class configuration on the routes.
An analyst said while international traffic in January is generally strong, the residual impact from the Mumbai terror attacks may hurt the carrier.
“Some of these routes are certainly well serviced. Mumbai-London, which has four other operators, will be particularly challenging. However, selecting routes that rely on point-to-point traffic can be risky unless they have been carefully researched and are supported by a comprehensive product and marketing strategy,” said Sydney-based Binit Somaia, regional director for the Indian subcontinent and Middle East at the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
“The selection of destinations such as London, Hong Kong and Singapore, which are major international hubs, allows for the development of traffic feed from a much broader range of markets, but it requires through fares to be offered to passengers in conjunction with other carriers,” Somaia added.
It is unclear if Jet Airways, which, too, runs a service on sectors such as Mumbai-London, will have a code-share arrangement with Kingfisher Airlines following the alliance between the two carriers. At that time, the two airlines said they would look at not duplicating flights and focus on measures including code sharing, network rationalization, joint fuel management and common ground handling.
An email sent to Kingfisher Airlines’ spokesman on 2 December seeking comment on the level of cooperation the alliance has achieved in the past one-and-a-half months remained unanswered.