IndiGo opens booking for Delhi – Instanbul route on wet-leased Boeing 777 aircraft


IndiGo, the country’s largest carrier by fleet and domestic market share, has opened reservations for flights operated by the Boeing 777-300ER with the booking engine reflecting the same.

The airline will operate the wet leased aircraft between Delhi and Istanbul – the hub of Turkish Airlines, from whom the airline has been wet leased. The high density aircraft is configured with 28 business class and 372 economy class seats.

The first hint of IndiGo’s widebody plans had come up in 2017. The airline expressed its interest to acquire the international business of Air India along with Air India Express. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then, including the fall of Jet Airways and the pandemic.

One of the statements that Rakesh Gangwal, co-founder of IndiGo, had made was “we are generally of the view that it makes fundamental economic sense for us to enter the long-haul international market.” Gangwal is no longer a board member in IndiGo now after a fall out with co-founder Rahul Bhatia.

The airline which started in 2006 and propagated its single fleet type strategy and its benefit has since diversified into having multiple subtypes of the A320 family, the turboprop ATRs and now the wet leased operations with the widebody aircraft.

While the sub-fleet and new fleet kept getting added, the standard 180-seat configuration changed to have 78, 180, 186, 222 and 232 seats. This will be the first time there will be an addition of “Class of Travel” with the wet-leased B777s offering business class or will it, if it decides to not sell the business class and let Turkish Airlines do this part.

Widebody freeing up narrowbody

IndiGo got into a turbulence for approvals of widebody induction. Indian rules hitherto allowed wet lease for up to six months as a stop gap arrangement for proven shortage of aircraft. There indeed was a proven shortage since IndiGo was struggling to get all aircraft in the air – thanks to supply chain issues delaying replacement engines, but six months was too short a period. The rules have since been revised and IndiGo is the first beneficiary of this new rule, which allows a year of wet-lease

IndiGo’s Turkish ambitions have been stuck in bad luck. The start coincided with the closure of Pakistani airspace which meant that the non-stop flight became one-stop via Doha as the A321neo does not have the legs to fly as long. Eventually, the second flight started as well. Soon, the sector made news again for leaving behind baggage of passengers and just when everything seemed to stabilise, the pandemic hit. Starting January 1, the airline is splitting its operations between Delhi and Mumbai, with the Mumbai – Istanbul flight having a tech stop at Ras Al Khaimah.

With the Istanbul route being taken over by a widebody, it will free up one A321neo for operating elsewhere. This will also be the first time that IndiGo will offer hot meals on its flights!

The Turkish bilateral issue

Bilateral rights or Bilateral Air Services Agreement vary from country to country. Sometimes they are capped by seats, sometimes by frequencies and sometimes by a combination of both. In the case of India – Turkey bilateral, it is capped by frequencies – allowing 14 weekly frequencies from each side.

While the National Civil Aviation Policy talks about renegotiation when the Indian side reaches 80 percent mark, even with 100 percent utilisation from both sides – renegotiation has not happened. Geopolitics is partly to blame for that as Turkey has time and again taken stances at global bodies, which are detrimental to India’s interest.

With IndiGo operating widebody operations, Turkish gets a huge boost in the number of passengers since these flights are codeshare. It will take time to know how many seats on the flight are actively sold to feed the global network of Turkish Airlines via Istanbul and how many of the passengers end their journey in Turkey. One does not know if Turkish offered a sweet deal on the planes to IndiGo as this would help the airline get additional traffic and aim at salami slicing traffic from the Middle Eastern carriers.

Widebody and LCC – unproven combination yet

Low cost carriers inducting widebody aircraft has not resulted in great results thus far. From Wow Air to Norwegian – there have been a lot of skeletons. Some of the biggest carriers like Ryanair and Easyjet have stayed away from this and stuck to a single fleet type for ages.

Closer home though AirAsia, with its subsidiary AirAsiaX as well as Cebu Pacific, VietJet and Lion Air have been operating widebody aircraft. Not all of them are successful, with AirAsia X having seen closure in Indonesia and severe headwinds in its home market.India, as always, is different. The sheer volume of passengers is huge as compared to other countries in the region except China, and currently the volume is dependent on foreign carriers to a large extent. With Air India upping the game, IndiGo has to either join it now or wait for the XLRs to arrive in 2024 or beyond. The wet lease arrangement seems to be in the “everything in-between” mode of testing the waters before taking a plunge.

(With Inputs from MoneyControl)