Welcome competition from Air India; India big enough to have two mega airlines: IndiGo new CEO

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RAS AL KHAIMAH: India is currently witnessing the creation of two mega airlines, with domestic market leader IndiGo on an expansion spree and Tata Group consolidating its four carriers under Air India. IndiGo’s new CEO Pieter Elbers, who took over barely three weeks back, has hit the ground running and tells TOI inn an exclusive interview how the airline will evolve over the coming months in terms of offering a more comfortable product and a larger network. He welcomes the upcoming changes at the Maharaja, saying the 1.4-billion strong India easily has the capacity to have two big airlines. Excerpts:
IndiGo’s existing product on several aircraft needs improvement in terms of passenger comfort. What changes can we expect here?
We have a lot of planes on order at IndiGo. We continue to enhance the product and the difference can be seen in planes that are brand new and the earlier ones. Given toy’s supply chain challenges we will like to hold on to planes and continue using them. For that reason, we remain cautious on giving any timeframe to change seats while our ambition is to have comfortable seats on all our aircraft. Our catering product is very different from what we had six months ago (in terms of onboard menu). We have more variety now. We recently started disembarking from three doors instead of two to allow passengers to get off quickly. The focus on punctuality, safety and courteous service remains steadfast.
IndiGo has been planning a frequent flyer program. By when will it be rolled out?
We have a very loyal customer base across our current network of 100 destinations. We have a Ka-ching credit card programme. We are now evaluating for possible further steps. No precise decision has been taken up yet but clearly further building up our loyalty is very important to us.
The Airbus A321XLRs are expected to start joining your fleet from mid-2024. What is that long range product and IndiGo’s network of going to be like?
Today we have a certain reach for our network and fly upto Istanbul. There are a lot of opportunities for network development within this range also. The XLR will be the next level of development and we haven’t yet finalised our product as there is still some time. (A business class and onboard ovens for real hot meals are among the things being considered.) Once we know precise timelines for their induction from Airbus, we will define our product as we want to have the latest and best product available for our passengers.
For the first time in years, IndiGo faces the prospect of a real challenge from another Indian carrier in form of Tata Group airline plans. This August, domestic on time performance was led by three Tata airlines and IndiGo was at fourth spot. How do you plan to meet this challenge?
It is good the market in India will further develop and grow. With more capacity, there will be greater opportunities for newer Indian customers to start flying. Competition will drive up performance and offering for customers. We welcome this opportunity (the upcoming Tata airlines’ challenge). The Indian market is big enough for both of us to develop here. On the international front, we will compete not just with AI but more so with the foreign carriers. I don’t see any issue with two big Indian carriers operating international flights in a country of the size and population of India. It will help us take some international traffic from foreign carriers. Also, our networks will be a little different in terms of markets. Our on time performance has been improving in the past few months despite several challenges.
It was believed the Pratt & Whitney engine issue was behind us. Now again over 20 planes are grounded as they await engines. Any word from PW on this?
Supply chain shortages are being faced globally by companies across industries. With the number of aircraft we operate and have on order, these issues are having an impact on us too. We are evaluating every possibility to serve our customers. Safety is our key priority, something we will never compromise with. We are in talks with PW to see how we can ensure an adequate delivery to secure our operations.
Will wide body aircraft be the next step after Airbus A321XLRs?
When I joined IndiGo a few week back, I sent a message titled “towards new heights”. That’s resonated very well in the company. The XLR will be the next step in IndiGo’s development. Thereafter we see, no final decision as yet. We are not ruling anything out and keep all options open.
(The reporter is in Ras Al Khaimah at the invitation of IndiGo)
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