As A380 continues to be restricted in India, Lufthansa to deploy 747-8 to Delhi and Bangalore


Two of the first destinations for Boeing 747-8 launch operator Lufthansa will be Delhi and Bangalore, notable as the 747-8 will have the largest capacity in Lufthansa's fleet after its A380, which India has not yet permitted foreign airlines to operate with. Lufthansa serves Delhi with daily 747-400 and A340-600 service while Bangalore sees daily 747-400 service. With Lufthansa utilising 46 of the 50 weekly frequencies available to German carriers (Lufthansa is currently the sole operator to India) and the Germany-India bilateral unlikely to be expanded in the near future, the deployment of larger aircraft is Lufthansa's main mechanism to expand in the growing Indian market.

Europe-India services will grow in the near future with British Airways (BA) likely to expand in India following International Airlines Group (IAG), its parent company, acquiring bmi, which has bestowed IAG with 42 London Heathrow slots. The Lufthansa Group of airlines is the largest European airline group serving India while IAG is a distant second and Air France-KLM third.

India accounts for two of Lufthansa's first five 747-8 markets

Lufthansa, which last week took delivery of the first 747-8 in passenger outfit (cargo variants as well as VIP configurations have already been delivered) announced initial 747-8 routes to be served by the end of northern summer 2012 include Bangalore, Chicago, Delhi, Los Angeles and Washington DC. Aside from announcing that the 747-8 will serve Washington from 01-Jun-2012 with six weekly services, Lufthansa has not disclosed further scheduling information. However, it is highly likely the 747-8 will operate Indian services from Lufthansa's Frankfurt hub, where the 747-8 will be based. Almost all Frankfurt-India services are operated by the 747-400, which had been the largest capacity aircraft Lufthansa could use to serve India.

Lufthansa's 747-400 seats upwards of 344 passengers, its A380 526 passengers and A340-600 306 passengers, all in a three-class first/business/economy configuration. While Lufthansa has not announced the configuration of its 747-8, indications are that it will be in a first/business/economy layout seating approximately 360.

Summary of Lufthansa's Indian operations: 30-Apr-2012 to 06-May-2012

Route Weekly frequencies Equipment
Bangalore-Frankfurt 7 747-400
Chennai-Frankfurt 7 A340-600
Delhi-Frankfurt 7 747-400
Delhi-Munich 7 A340-600
Mumbai-Frankfurt 7 747-400
Mumbai-Munich 7 A330-300
Pune-Frankfurt 4 737-800

Lufthansa, as well as Emirates and other carriers, have requested permission from the Indian Government to operate their A380s into India but have been rebuffed. The Germany-India bilateral agreement specifically limits carriers from not operating aircraft larger than the 747. As Indian carriers use far below their available capacity to Germany, India has few imperatives to revise the bilateral in negotiations that could see Germany ask for A380 operating permission in exchange for granting Indian carriers greater access.

IAG to challenge Lufthansa in India

Lufthansa is the largest carrier operating between Europe and India while British Airways is the third largest. In terms of airline groupings, the Lufthansa Group (including Austrian and Swiss) is approximately 85% larger than IAG (which only includes British Airways as Iberia operates no services to India).

European airline groups serving India (seats): 30-Apr-2012 to 06-May-2012

Rank Group Total seats
1 Lufthansa 35,602
2 IAG 19,696
3 Air France-KLM 12,030

Ten largest carriers operating between Europe and India (seats): 30-Apr-2012 to 06-May-2012

Rank Airline Total seats
1 LH Lufthansa 26,258
2 9W Jet Airways 26,226
3 BA British Airways 19,696
4 AI Air India 16,448
5 AF Air France 8040
6 TK Turkish Airlines 7560
7 LX SWISS 6608
8 KL KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 3990
9 SU Aeroflot 3496
10 DL Delta Air Lines 3178

While IAG in the near future will not be able to overtake the Lufthansa Group, British Airways could use some of the 42 daily slots it has inherited from its acquisition of bmi to expand its presence in India.

See related article: British Airways plans two phases to bring bmi, and its London Heathrow slots, to profitability

BA will have limited growth opportunities, although more than available to Lufthansa. Under the UK-India bilateral, UK carriers may have up to 56 weekly flights to Delhi and Mumbai. With Virgin Atlantic's Oct-2012 London Heathrow-Mumbai service, there will be 14 weekly frequencies left to Delhi and Mumbai combined. BA already has double daily services to Delhi and Mumbai. UK carriers can serve Bangalore and Chennai each up to 14 times per week; BA has daily service to Bangalore and five-weekly service to Chennai. Other cities are limited to seven weekly flights; BA's only other Indian point, Hyderabad, receives five weekly services. Approximately four additional daily services to India – unlikely to be realised in the near future – would see BA overtake Lufthansa in capacity to India.

Bilaterals, not demand, continue to be limiting factors

While most of India's airlines at present are not in a healthy condition, that is largely a reflection of how the airlines have been run as well as government policies, not the demand or potential of the Indian market, especially internationally. But airlines are being stymied by restrictive bilaterals and continued reluctance to permit A380 operations, policies that may benefit local carriers but are detrimental to the larger market.

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