Indian fliers attract the novelty value

Lufthansa and Japan Airways are putting up their newest planes on Indian routes. The media talks about how this is to ‘woo’ the Indian flyer. The truth lies elsewhere

 

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner project has been of personal interest to me, because it was the first one in a long time that an airline company was innovating on a lot of fronts together. In spite of the fact that Boeing took almost three years longer than the original plan for the delivery of the plane, it couldn’t have come at a better time, with jet fuel being at an all time high. The Boeing 787 delivers 15%-20% fuel efficiency as compared to similar aircraft, and is the world’s first composite-built aircraft, which means it is lighter than the traditional aluminium-built aircraft. 

While Air India is in the process of securing its 27 Dreamliners on order, and will finally get four of them from May 2012 onwards, Japan Airlines has already put the 787 on service from 1 May 2012 on its only flight from India (Delhi-Tokyo). Although I haven’t personally travelled on this plane yet, fliers on JAL’s 787s have reported all things good about this. 

But JAL brought this new plane to India for a purely a business-driven reason. They’ve had an about 70% occupancy ratio on this route over the years when operated on a larger plane, and with the 787, for the first time, they have been able to get a plane which can fly for eight  hours with about enough seats to fly the plane full. Not to forget, the fuel efficiency helps as well to trim costs. Till before 1 May, they would fly the Boeing 777 to India, which would have excess seating than required, and is a fuel guzzler by 787 standards.  The fuel-cost reduction can be the competitive advantage in today’s aviation era, as airlines go far and wide to get this impact. USA-based Delta Airlines has just bought an oil-refinery, to try and reduce its fuel cost by refining it in-house, so you can imagine how much innovative thinking is happening out there.  

On the other hand, Lufthansa has announced that it will bring the new Boeing 747-8 to India in a couple of months. The 747 is one of the biggest planes out there, with the Airbus A380 perhaps being the only bigger plane as of date. Lufthansa has been flying the famous San Francisco –Bangalore (via Frankfurt) route for over a decade now, which is often called “Bangalore Express” by the frequent flyers, offering networking opportunities 30,000 feet up in the air. The flight is usually sold out, day after day, and Lufthansa naturally feels the need for a bigger plane.

Their request for flying the Airbus A380s to India has been continuously denied by the Government of India (along with that of Emirates). This is evidently to protect the local Indian airlines, since some prominent international carriers manage to attract a lot of Indian traffic for travel to Europe and North America. For Lufthansa, India is the second largest market after the United States of America, and this delay leaves it with the only other option, to fly the new Boeing 747-800 planes, which are permitted under the current bilateral agreement between both the governments, to expand its capacity to India. The new variant of the 747 planes gives them an additional 10% capacity increase, and should hold good till the time the government changes its view about the A380. 

So, the next time you hear that an international airline is deploying a cutting-edge plane for its Indian operations, don’t be surprised. Think of it as a business-decision rather than a marketing gimmick to attract more travellers. 

AJ writes a travel and aviation focussed blog from India at www.livefromalounge.com. You can follow him at @livefromalounge on Twitter.

 

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