The newest Indian domestic airline, Akasa Air, plans to start international operations by the middle of or later next year, Praveen Iyer, the airline’s Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer, said on Thursday.

We all know that you need twenty aircraft to do international (operations). We do that in May (next year). We will look to start international operations by the middle or later (part of) next year. Which routes, which destinations I think it all comes down to where the bilaterals are on both sides,” Iyer said.

Indian government regulations require a domestic airline to have a minimum fleet of twenty aircraft before it is allowed to operate flights abroad. Earlier Indian regulations required a domestic airline to have a fleet of twenty aircraft and also fly in the domestic skies for at least five years before being allowed to operate abroad. But this policy was changed in 2016 and now the only stipulation for flying internationally is having a fleet of twenty aircraft. 

The Boeing MAX aircraft allow Akasa Air to operate flights that are about five-to-half hours from India. In effect, this will open up non-stop routes to Bali, Singapore, and to certain parts of the Middle East for the new Indian start-up airline.

No change in strategy

On the issue of whether there has been any change in strategy following the demise of billionaire Rakesh Jhunjhunwala who was invested in the airline, Vinay Dube, Akasa Air’s Chief Executive Officer, said that there had been no change in strategy. “It was very well discussed, well regarded, and appreciated. There is no reason to change that strategy,” Dube said. Jhunjhunwala passed away within a week of Akasa Air taking to the skies in August.

The airline also announced that it will start flying domesticated cats and dogs in the aircraft cabin and also carry them as belly cargo from November 1 this year. Bookings for domesticated pets to fly on Akasa Air will open from October 15.

Akasa Air will establish Delhi as the sixth destination on its network and inaugurate its first flight on the Delhi-Bengaluru and Delhi-Ahmedabad routes on October 7.  Both routes will be served with daily flights in each direction. The airline announced eight destinations so far, including Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kochi, Chennai, Delhi, Agartala, and Guwahati being covered with 11 non-stop routes.

The airline received its first Boeing 737 MAX in June and operated its first commercial flight on August 7 this year. The airline currently has six aircraft and plans to have a fleet of eighteen aircraft by March next year.

Commenting on Akasa Air’s plans of starting international operations, Satyendra Pandey, Managing Partner, aviation advisory firm, AT-TV said that the MAX opens up several international markets for Akasa, not only because of the aircraft range but also geopolitical dynamics and with a clear goal to induct twenty aircraft by May  2023, it seems international flying is front and center on the radar.

Initially Akasa is likely to focus on markets at or below this range (5.5 hours). A focus on high leisure markets in addition to diaspora markets – both limited only by the bilateral capacity – seems to be the way forward,” Pandey said adding that into this basket will fall Hong Kong, Dubai, Sharjah, Vietnam, Laos, Tashkent, Bali, and other similar destinations. He is of the opinion that the weakness of one or more airlines in India may also open up opportunities for Akasa to go in. 

That said, international flying is a whole different ball game where competition is even more intense. The LCC model is tested in international markets because of various issues ranging from slots and ground times on the operations side to currency remittance and bank guarantees on the finance side. Akasa will have to carefully consider route choices and be nimble not only in entering a market but also exiting a market if it doesn’t deliver. Traffic trends are showing that markets such as Laos and Vietnam are generating significant traction driven by multiple factors including currency, hotel capacity, visa policies, and supply-demand dynamics,” he says.

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Former Senior Deputy Editor at Business Line (aka The Hindu Business Line)

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