Wadia Group-promoted GoAir, which recently became eligible to fly overseas with the induction of 20th aircraft in its fleet, may become the first Indian budget airline to take wings to Europe, subject to government nod.
GoAir has expressed its intent to fly abroad from next year and indicated Europe among several other regions in this regard, a top Civil Aviation Ministry official has said.
Among the four low-cost airlines — SpiceJet, IndiGo, GoAir and AirAsia India operating in the country, only the first two currently fly international with operations to the Gulf, Southeast Asia and SAARC regions.
“GoAir has expressed its intent to fly overseas from next calendar year. It has indicated some regions,” Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey said, adding that Gulf and Europe were some regions that the Mumbai-based carrier was looking at.
However, the airline “has not yet submitted a formal plan in this regard,” he said.
When pointed out that the airline does not have the type of aircraft for the long-haul operations, Choubey said they could be considering “hopping flights”.
Flights of over seven hours are considered long-haul and are generally operated by twin-aisled wide-body aircraft, whereas GoAir’s fleet comprises of 20 narrow-body, single- aisle Airbus A-320s. It has 71 more of the same type of aircraft on order.
Recently during the induction of its 20th aircraft and the first of the 72 A320 neo (new engine option), GoAir Chief Executive Officer Wolfgang Prock-Schauer had said “with this expansion, we will be able to strengthen our domestic network and will also be available to fly on international routes.”
GoAir had started operations in November 2005. Despite more than 10 years in operations, the airline was not qualified to fly overseas as it did not have 20 aircraft in the fleet under the 5/20 rule, under which only those airlines having five years of operational experience and a minimum of 20 aircraft are allowed to fly overseas.
“GoAir can operate Europe with an Airbus A-320, but with a reduced seating capacity. Since Gulf is too close, it will not be possible for the airline to have a stop either at Dubai or Muscat,” an aviation expert said.
German carrier Lufthansa currently flies an all-business class A-320 plane to Pune from Frankfurt with only 48 seats as against a maximum seating capacity of 180.
“If it has to operate an A320 for long-haul, the airline will have to reduce the capacity of its aircraft by more two- thirds and could fly as all-business class,” the expert said. GoAir’s latest A-320 neo has a capacity of 186 seats.
The airline had, in June 2011, placed order for 72 new A -320 neo aircraft, valued at about Rs 32,400 crore on list price, with the European aviation major Airbus.