The battle for domestic skies is set to shift to the national capital, with low-cost carriers AirAsia India and Vistara booking slots in the T-3 international airport in New Delhi.
Sources in the know confirmed Vistara, the joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, had booked six slots at the airport in New Delhi, adding it was ready to fly once it secured the government’s nod.
What came as a surprise was AirAsia India, which had been eyeing six-seven slots here, was offered three slots at the T3 airport.
Sources said the carrier, which had earlier planned to start operations from Delhi next year, had now decided to commence these services within a year and a half.
It will be the first low-cost carrier not to operate from the airport which earmarked for such airlines in New Delhi.
In the national capital, the airline will take on rival IndiGo.
IndiGo has already taken the battle with AirAsia India to Bengaluru, substantially increasing its flights from that city.
For Vistara, services are expected to be launched this year.
The airline plans to begin services in five cities, increasing the count to 11 within a year of operations.
It will have 87 weekly flights linking Delhi with Mumbai, Goa, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jammu, Srinagar, Patna and Chandigarh.
By the fourth year of operations, the number of flights will be raised to 301, while the number of destinations will be increased to 21.
The Tata-SIA venture has said it also wants to operate international flights from India.
According to norms, only airlines with more than five years of operations and a fleet of at least 20 aircraft can operate flights to other countries.
The aviation ministry has, however, drafted a Cabinet note to change the policy.
In September, AirAsia group chief executive Tony Fernandes had said his airline would get more aggressive in expanding operations in India.
It hopes to add six aircraft by the end of this year 12-14 by the end of 2015.
Fernandes had said AirAsia India would start flights to Mumbai and Delhi soon, taking on the “big boys” on metro routes.
“In Incredible India, Bombay is changing by the day. AirAsia India will be starting in this metro soon. We are coming,” he tweeted.
Last year, Fernandes had announced AirAsia India would skip Mumbai and Delhi due to the high airport charges in these cities.
While Fernandes did not indicate a date, sources said AirAsia India was likely to launch flights to and from Mumbai early next year.
It has not applied for slots at the Mumbai airport for the winter schedule beginning this month.
AirAsia India commenced operations in May. It operates two Airbus A320 aircraft from Bangalore to Goa, Chennai, Kochi, Chandigarh and Jaipur.
Through the next few months, it expects to add three-four A320s and launch flights to Guwahati.
For August, the airline recorded a load factor of 73 per cent, higher than those of Air India and Jet Airways but lower compared to other low-cost airlines.
“We are not surprised (by plans to start flights to and from Mumbai). This is on expected lines.
"The challenges faced on current routes might force a rethink on the entire network strategy, which means more direct competition with other key carriers,” said Kapil Kaul of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
BATTLE MOVES TO THE CAPITAL