Home/ News / India/  UK’s Gatwick tempts Indian airlines with lower flier costs

NEW DELHI : The UK’s second-busiest airport Gatwick is looking to woo Indian carriers to launch services to and from India, with the aviation sector still struggling to reach pre-pandemic levels.

“We had conversations with IndiGo, and have had them for many years. We are interested to engage with it. We are super keen to attract Indigo and any other airline based in India, and has the aircraft capability to fly to UK. Pre-covid, IndiGo had slots at Gatwick, so it is a clear intent. I am pretty sure as the years progress, and it has the right aircraft equipment, it may start flights," said Jonathan Pollard, Gatwick Airport’s chief commercial officer, in an interview.

It has also been in talks with Air India, which is starting a few flights, connecting Gatwick to Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Goa and Kochi from 26 March. Gatwick expects to attract more airlines than Heathrow, and is offering cost benefits to Indian airlines. The airport is 50% cheaper than Heathrow in terms of cost per passenger—£15. Heathrow, the largest airport in the UK, has been the first choice for Indian carriers.

The recovery in the US, UK and European aviation sector has so far been slow and is yet to breach pre-covid demand, primarily due to the Ukraine- Russia war.

Pollard said passenger traffic at Gatwick largely depends on international flights, which was at 86% of pre-covid levels in October, and may continue through 2023 as well. The airport operator expects to reach 2019 levels only in 2024.

A similar story is playing out in the US aviation market, which had reached 88% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

“In 2023, we will be 41 million passengers, or will be 87% recovery. We reinstated a lot of our capacity to North America, Canada, the Carribeans, and the Middle East, and we expect developments in the Chinese market in the coming weeks," Pollard added.

In contrast, the Indian aviation sector touched a new high in December.

Air passenger traffic crossed pre-covid levels in December quarter, and sustained even higher demand in a traditionally lean travel season in March quarter with daily passengers at 420,000-440,000.

While Gatwick Airport is hiring more staff, anticipating higher demand in the summer season, it expects the net staff strength to be lower by around 10% compared to 2019 levels due to increased deployment of technology.

European airports had also faced a high number of flight cancellations in 2022 due to a shortage of ground staff for handling incoming and outgoing flights.

Gatwick, the eighth busiest airport in Europe, is eyeing more flights from India as over 60% of the traffic between the UK and India operates via various international airport hubs including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Frankfurt.

“Our impression of Air India is what was already a powerful and impressive airline, is now been restructured slightly by a different ownership. We can see that in terms of the interactions we had with Air India."

The extra long-range (XLR) aircraft of airlines such as IndiGo could help in direct connectivity by budget carriers between India and the UK, he added.

“The XLR which is due to be received by some carriers later next year could help fly to UK. The XLR and the total range has not yet ruled out the opportunity to fly from UK to India. The number of seats that an aircraft has, if it were restricted from the total payload, may be, an airline can consider slightly fewer seats, and then increase the revenue per seat," he added.

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Updated: 24 Mar 2023, 11:00 PM IST
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