Kingfisher Airlines (P) Ltd, currently awaiting the government’s permission to fly overseas, plans to make all its international flights non-stop, a first among carriers, as travellers increasingly look for shorter flying times.
“All my international flights would be non-stop. We are designing our international operations as a different experience,” said Vijay Mallya, chairman and chief executive officer of Kingfisher Airlines.
The airline plans to position this as a key attraction of its international operations. “I do not believe in the hub game for the international operations. Passengers want direct flights rather than going via hub,” Mallya said in a Saturday interview.
Kingfisher cannot fly overseas currently because of regulations in India, which say that only carriers with five years’ experience in operating domestic flights can do so.
However, the two-year-old airline plans to launch its international operations in August next year when Air Deccan completes the requisite five years. Kingfisher has a controlling stake in Air Deccan. According to Mallya, and as previously reported by Mint on 3 September, Kingfisher would fly overseas under its own name and logo and not Air Deccan’s because the two “were one airline for all practical purposes...”.
A group of ministers is currently looking at a proposal to relax the five-year rule.
Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer (Indian subcontinent and Middle East), Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), an international aviation consulting firm, said it would not be easy for an airline in the long term to keep all its international flights non-stop.
Referring to Kingfisher’s model, Kaul said there was “great demand for business travel, especially non-stop operations”. However, he added that an airline could end up having to move to a hub model as its fleet size increased.
“Flying (to) all global destinations non-stop would be good for the initial period, but once the airline graduates to large-scale operations, the ideal solution would be to set up a hub. Perhaps, a hub in Europe would supplement an airline’s international operations,” Kaul said.
An international hub is an airport used by a carrier to transfer passengers to the final destination. Normally, a flight to a hub will be planned in such a way that passengers can then get multiple flights to multiple locations, giving them the flexibility to break long journeys or go to locations that aren’t served directly.
Airlines retain loyal passengers by dropping them off at these hubs and using partner airlines to ferry them to destinations that they themselves do not serve.
Currently, Kingfisher Airlines’ arch rival Jet Airways (India) Ltd uses Brussels as a hub for its international operations. State-owned carrier Air India, also India’s oldest international carrier, is scouting for a hub in Europe even though it currently operates non-stop Mumbai-New York flights.
Initially, Kingfisher Airlines plans to start non-stop operations between Bangalore and San Francisco, Mumbai and New York, Mumbai and London, and New Delhi and London. The carrier is yet to finalize other international destinations in the US and Europe.
Kingfisher Airlines will take delivery of its first wide-body aircraft used for international operations in April.
It has agreed to purchase around 40 wide-body airplanes, which could be used for long-haul operations, from European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, promoted by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS).
A press statement by Airbus on 20 June said that Kingfisher Airlines had agreed to buy 15 A350-800 XWBs in addition to the five previously ordered, 10 A330-200s and five A340-500s.
Kingfisher Airlines is the first Indian carrier to place firm orders for five A380s, the largest civilian airplane ever built.
“Our strategy at Kingfisher is to open new long-haul routes and expand existing ones. With the A340-500 and then the A350 XWB, we will be able to offer direct routes between India and the US for example. The A330 will allow us to expand services to Europe and the A320s will help us to meet demand in our home region,” Mallya was quoted as saying in the Airbus press statement.