New Delhi: Europe’s largest airline by passengers, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, wants to be the first carrier to fly the “super jumbo” A380 to India in summer 2010 and has asked the civil aviation ministry to permit it to fly the double-decker aircraft to Indian cities.
If the ministry approves, the German carrier will likely beat peers Emirates Airline and Indian firm Kingfisher Airlines Ltd to deploy the world's biggest commercial passenger jet in Indian skies.
The Airbus SAS-made A380 began commercial operations when Singapore Airlines Ltd used it late last year to fly from the island nation to Sydney. Airlines across the world plan to replace their old aircraft with the A380 on high-traffic global routes to address problems of limited airport slots and restricted bilateral agreements between countries.
How A380 will tap global routes by 2010 (Graphic)
Around 81 A380 aircraft, up from the three in the skies currently, are expected to fly by the end of 2010, according to the Toulouse, France-based manufacturer, on similar high-density routes to London, Tokyo, New York and Dubai, among others.
Lufthansa counts Indian cities among the first of its choices for the A380 routes. “We have shortlisted Delhi and Mumbai,” said Werner Heesen, director of South Asia for Lufthansa, referring to the more than a dozen global routes that the airline is looking to deploy the 15 A380s it is acquiring. “It will be Delhi, then Mumbai,” he said.
The Indian flights will connect Delhi and Mumbai to Frankfurt, which has been developed as a hub for A380 operations with significant investment in infrastructure, including engineering and maintenance. The current flights to the two Indian cities, Heesen said, may not be replaced, depending on the traffic in 2010.
The groundwork for starting operations is likely to face some hurdles. New Delhi and Mumbai airports, both of which contribute nearly half of the country’s air traffic, are still being modernized and will have the necessary infrastructure for commercial A380 services only by around the same time, Heesen said.
The UB Group-owned Kingfisher Airlines, the only Indian carrier to order five A380s, is slated to take delivery around 2012, according to Airbus, while Emirates and Singapore Airlines—the other two carriers with multiple flight to Indian cities—are yet to decide if they would use the super jumbos to service India.
Lufthansa, which currently flies 69 times a week to India, will also have to negotiate with the Indian regulatory authorities to tweak a clause in the bilateral agreement between India and Germany that prohibits use of aircraft “exceeding capacity of B747.”
Boeing Co.’s 747, the largest passenger aircraft till A380 arrived on the scene, is flown by several airlines on long-haul flights.
In talks held between Germany and India earlier this year, the aviation ministry did not permit Lufthansa to fly a larger aircraft. “It is not possible,” said a senior ministry official, who did not want to be named, adding the ministry cannot commit “for 2010 rights now.” Heesen said he hoped permission will be granted when both nations “review it again in February 2009.”
It is unclear how Lufthansa would configure the seats in the A380s when it flies to India since the aircraft can carry between 500 and 800 passengers and carriers have to be careful in selecting routes and configurations they can sustain round the year.
Emirates, the largest buyer of the aircraft, for instance, is concentrating on two of its A380 launch routes this year: non-stop to New York and London with three passenger classes. The 489-seater for New York, for example, will have 14 seats in the first class, 76 in business and the rest 399 in economy. Experts, however, say the airline would use aircraft that have at least 600 seats for its flights between Indian cities and the United Arab Emirates, that is frequented by Indian workers who prefer to fly economy class.
Emirates is “currently studying the possibility of operating the A380 in India,” an airline spokesperson said from Dubai by phone, adding that the decision will depend on the capability of Indian airports to handle the plane.
Singapore Airlines has positioned the A380 as a premium product. “It is attracting high-end travel with premium space as the catch phrase,” said Chin Y. Lim, an analyst at Morgan Stanley’s Singapore office who tracks the airline closely, by e-mail. “The load factors for premium class are performing in line with expectation including suite class, which is matching first class.”
The airline has refrained from serving the Indian market with A380, preferring Sydney, London and Tokyo routes instead. “The mission for us when we acquired the A380 was for long-haul operation—something beyond 8-12 hours. So, there are no plans to deploy this batch of A380s to India,” said Foo Chai Woo, general manager of India at Singapore Airlines, which has bought 19 such aircraft with five more to come this year.