In a move aimed at giving it an edge over its competition, India’s largest carrier IndiGo is set to upgrade a part of its existing order for 250 A320neos to A321LRs, industry sources said. The move will enable the carrier to increase the number of seats per flight and also deploy the aircraft on short overseas routes. “Whenever an airline places an order with the manufacturer, there is an option for an upgrade of the equipment. IndiGo has exercised that option for A321LRs,” said an industry source. It is believed that the number of aircraft the airline seeks to upgrade at this point is between 20 and 25. The aircraft are likely to be inducted into the fleet in fiscal 2019-20. “The manufacturer needs to be informed about the upgrade well in advance, may be 12-13 months,” said an airline executive, not wishing to be named. The delivery period may also depend on the delivery schedule for this aircraft type, as it is a new model with large orders placed by international carriers. Indigo, at present, has a fleet of 153 Airbus A320s and 3 ATR aircraft. IndiGo did not respond to a mail seeking confirmation of the same.
The carrier had placed an order for aircraft estimated at $25.7 bn (list price) in 2014, which was among the largest for Airbus, and the terms permitted it to upgrade its single-aisle A320neos to advanced A321LRs. The A321LR, due to its new door configuration, enables an operator to accommodate up to a maximum of 240 passengers, shows information on the Airbus website. That is 60 more seats compared to the A320neos with a 180-seat configuration. But the airline might also choose to configure its aircraft for a 220-seat capacity, depending on intended deployment. The A321LR is the widest single-aisle aircraft from Airbus and will offer enhanced passenger experience, an important factor for continued patronage on medium haul flights (of 3 to 6 hours).
“IndiGo’s strategy is to use this aircraft type for thicker routes that is going to offer it the biggest advantage per seat,” an airline executive said. It is likely to deploy A321LRs on routes that are in the range of three to six hours of flying time such as Dubai, and its flights to Singapore and Bangkok from Kolkata and Chennai and may be Hong Kong. Aviation expert and analyst Mark Martin of Martin Consulting dubs the move as a smart one which will definitely work in the carrier’s favour. Martin sees IndiGo using these aircraft for long haul routes and for markets that are not penetrated by Indian carriers so far. “Because of its range of 4,000 nautical miles, this aircraft opens up new markets for IndiGo, may be Brisbane, Adelaide or some in Africa. It is a reliable machine and there is familiarity with the aircraft type,” he said.
The number of seats offered on this aircraft is ideal as a 300-seater aircraft might be difficult to fill on some of these routes, he added. It is, however, not clear if IndiGo will go in for an additional centre fuel tank (ACT) option that the A321LR offers its clients to combine an increased maximum take-off weight of 97 tonne (Airbus website) and a third additional centre fuel tank (ACT) that will extend the range of the aircraft allowing it to tap new markets, in IndiGo’s case European markets. Industry sources say IndiGo is looking at the A350 aircraft type for its long haul markets and has started training flight dispatchers for A350s. IndiGo did not comment on this specific query. Also the easier way for the airline to add wide body aircraft to its fleet is contingent upon its winning the bid for Air India. In case of an unsuccessful bid, IndiGo might use the long range version of the A320 family to its advantage. It has already applied for flying rights to several destinations in Europe.