Monday, September 26, 2016

Hola Madrid: Air India launches Spain flight from December

by Soumen Mukherjee

"Hola Madrid" says Maharaja, the Air India mascot. Starting 1 December 2016 the Indian flag carrier launches three weekly flight to the Spanish capital from its Delhi airport hub. The airline will deploy its 256 seater (18J, 218Y) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner on the 7,262 km (3,921 nm) Delhi-Madrid route. Madrid becomes the ninth destination in Air India's burgeoning European network. The Star Alliance member airline is yet to make a formal announcement of the launch and reservations for the flight has not yet opened on Air India's official websites or on online travel agents though the schedule has already been filed and Google flights started showing the non-stop flight. For a long time Spain has remained one of the largest untapped market in Western Europe with both Barcelona and Madrid among the largest unserved routes from Delhi. Earlier Air India was also known to be contemplating a Delhi-Madrid-Barcelona-Delhi triangular flight. But having failed triangular flights earlier in Australia and Italy market, Air India has finally decided to go for solo Madrid flight as it as indicated in this blog before.

Air India's Delhi-Madrid Schedule eff 1 December 2016

Flight No.
Origin: Departure
Destination: Arrival
AI 135
Delhi: 14:25
Madrid: 20:20
Tue, Thu, Sat

AI 136
Madrid: 21:50
Delhi: 11:10+1
Tue, Thu, Sat

However having both the Spanish long-haul carriers Iberia (Oneworld) and Air Europa (SkyTeam) belong to rival alliances, the scope for partnership for providing Indian passengers onward trans-Atlantic connections via Madrid is limited. Unless Air India forge an out of the alliance with Iberia which has very strong network in Latin America, an area totally neglected in Delhi airport's network. But for such one-stop connections, Air India's evening arrival in Madrid will have long lay-over time as Iberia has noon departure of trans-Atlantic Latin American flights and therefore not a convenient option as discussed in this blog before.  Even the connection opportunity to neighboring Lisbon on fellow Star Alliance member TAP Portugal airlines is narrow. While the transit time between Lisbon-Madrid and Madrid-Delhi flight is sufficient but a mere 45 minutes transit time is not suitable for international transfer on the opposite direction.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner which was originally conceived as hub-buster to enable point to point long-haul flights bypassing the traditional hubs, is turning out to be great asset for Air India building its Delhi hub. The airline currently has 21 B787 in its fleet with six more to come from year end. Air India is flying these aircraft to all its European destinations including Birmingham, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Paris, Rome and Vienna except Moscow and the Far Eastern cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, Hong Kong (Melbourne and Sydney too) and regional routes like Bangkok, Dubai and Singapore. Madrid will be Air India's third new long-haul route from Delhi hub and overall fifth in last one year. The airline had launched San Francisco in December 2015 and Vienna in April 2016 from its Delhi hub and added Ahmedabad and Newark to London Heathrow in August 2016. All these are Dreamliner routes with the exception of San Francisco which is being operated on Boeing 777-200LR and the frequency is being increased to six weekly from 21 November 2016. Interestingly Air India has scheduled the new three weekly flight on alternate days (2,4,6) to complement its other three weekly service to Vienna (1,3,5) so that both the route can be operated on a single aircraft. This will further allow Air India to resume Dreamliner service to Moscow (on Sunday) in the winter schedule which is currently being operated on Airbus A319 on two weekly frequency. With Madrid flight being launched, all top eight European airports come into Delhi Airport's overall network of 14 European cities. Meanwhile Air India  is mulling to enter Scandinavian market most and Danish capital Copenhagen, Europe's 16th busiest airports, is the most likely destination. While Manchester (23th busiest  airport in Europe) has remained the largest unserved European destination from Delhi.

Asian connectivity has been historically weak point in Madrid airport's network. Though this year has so far been extremely productive with three new Asian carriers starting service to the Spanish capital, Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong w.e.f 2 June 2016), China Easter (Shanghai w.e.f 28 June 2016) and Air India (Delhi w.e.f. 1 December 2016). At the same time, Spanish flag carrier Iberia too is venturing into Asian market with back to back launch of Shanghai (w.e.f. 28 June 2016) and Tokyo (w.e.f. 18 October 2016) flights. Madrid's other Asian links include  Air China's Beijing flight. In Barcelona, the second busiest Spanish airport, the situation is even worse with its lone Asian link to Singapore is being downgraded to one-stop flight (via Milan) starting from winter 2016-17 schedule. Any onward connections on Singapore Airlines's network would then be two-stop proposition. So Air India's launch will provide Madrid not just non-stop option to Delhi but also one-stop connectivity to the greater South Asia and Southeast Asian region via Delhi. If Air India can manage to pull the sixth freedom connections well along with strong O&D passenger demand from both Delhi and Mumbai and other Indian cities, we may see the frequency being increased to daily in the near future.

Except Manila all of the above Asian destinations are served by Air India from its Delhi hub. Which provides Air India a good opportunity to carry sixth freedom transfer passenger traffic between Madrid and Asia. But in case of Seoul, Air India's connection via Delhi would be a two-stop proposition and of less appeal (Air India itself operates one-stop flight to Seoul). SkyTeam member Korean Air operates three weekly non-stop flights on Seoul-Madrid route. Perhaps Star Alliance can potentially increase its market share on the hugely underserved South Korea-Spain country market with Asiana Airlines expanding code share agreement to Air India's upcoming Delhi-Madrid route. Air India already places its code on Asiana's Delhi-Seoul daily non-stop flights. 

On Air India's part, passengers on Madird-Delhi flight will be offered onward connection to Bangkok, Colombo, Kathmandu and Melbourne on its network. The airline must try to align the departure schedules of its other Asian destinations like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo Narita to offer convenient one-stop connections to its European network. 
Flight No.
Origin: Departure
Destination: Arrival
AI 332
Delhi: 13:45
Bangkok: 19:20
AI 281
Delhi: 12:30
Colombo: 16:05
AI 217
Delhi: 13:05
Kathmandu: 15:05
AI 308
Delhi: 13:15
Melbourne: 07:00+1

AI 333
Bangkok: 08:50
Delhi: 12:05
AI 282
Colombo: 08:20
Delhi: 11:55
AI 218
Kathmandu: 10:35
Delhi: 12:05
AI 309
Melbourne: 10:45
Delhi: 17:40

Thai Airways used to serve Bangkok-Madrid route with four weekly Boeing 777-300ER flight but it ceased the service in September 2015. This year Spanish start-up carrier Plus Ultra has scheduled to operate seasonal service to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport with single weekly frequency. According to OAG traffic analyser's report around 74,000 passengers (one-way) have travelled from Spain and Bangkok via intermediate hubs in 2015. Currently Emirates and Qatar Airways dominating the one-stop market but favorable geography can potentially make Delhi a transit hub of choice.

Via Dubai
Via Delhi
10,205 km
5,510 nm
10,564 km
5,704 nm
10,215 km
5,515 nm
If we compare the current Bangkok-Madrid flight via Middle Eastern hubs like Dubai with proposed flight via Delhi, the via Delhi flight path is around 350 km (189 nm) shorter than the via Dubai flight path. Therefore the Bangkok-Delhi-Madrid flight is ideally a better proposition to both fliers and the operator as it takes less time (depends upon layover time also) and consumes less fuel as well which comprises a sizable part of the total cost of Indian airlines.

Kathmandu: Air India should be able to capture a sizable share of the European tourists/trekkers/mountaineers flow to Nepal with convenient 2 way connections to Kathmandu via Delhi. While Turkish Airlines takes 13 hr 05 min flight with 1 hr 45 min transit time in Istanbul, Air India's new connection will offer a better alternative of 10 hr 35 min flight with 1 hr 55 min transit time in Delhi on Madrid-Kathmandu route. 

Colombo: Colombo is another destinations in the South Asia where Air India will be offering one-stop connections to & from Madrid. With only limited non-stop European connections, Colombo market is heavily dominated by the Middle Eastern carriers. While Emirates takes 12 hr 40 min flight with 1 hr 25 min transit time in Dubai, Air India will offer 13 hr 45 min flight with 1 hr 20 min transit time in Delhi on Madrid-Colombo route. 

Melbourne: Like the continental Asia, Australasia is another area which lacks connectivity from Madrid or any other airports in Spain. Cathay Pacific, China Eastern along with Middle Eastern carriers currently dominate the one-stop market but from December onward Air India will offer one of the best connection in terms of journey time on Madrid-Delhi-Melbourne route on all 3 days. But it can't offer convenient connection on Melbourne-Delhi-Madrid return leg. While Emirates takes 22 hr 50 min flight with 3 hr 30 min transit time in Dubai, Air India offers 23 hr 25 min flight with 3 hr 50 min transit time in Delhi on Madrid-Melbourne route. But without good return connection the appeal of Air India's Spain (European)-Australian connection is much less and it remains a challenge for Air India's network planning team as the carrier is unlikely to have multiple daily frequencies to any of these destinations in the foreseeable future. Though Air India is known to have plans to increase its Australian service to five weekly flights to both Melbourne and Sydney by 2016 end. Then it will be able to provide connections to Sydney as well but the issue of return connection will remain so.


  1. Great article. I think only TAP Portugal connection to Lisbon or LATAM connections could be possible at Madrid if AI does not go to other alliance members. Australia return could be easily solved by starting Mumbai-Australia operations just like they do with Bangkok. 4-6 aircraft for 4 routes instead of the current 2 aircraft one daily route. That would make DEL as the cheapest business class hub for Europe - Australia market in two way. Not sure why AI never think about Indonesia and Vietnam to connect Europe and USA. Forget about Dhaka and Singapore. AI engineering is keeping AI aircraft in queue while servicing other airlines. Most of the new AI Regional ATRs are just flying 4-6 hrs a day.

    1. I believe Air India launching Australia flights from Mumbai is highly unlikely anytime soon rather they would go for increasing frequency of its Delhi-Melbourne/Sydney flights. And you are right that the triangular Delhi-Bangkok-Mumbai and vv schedule is the ideal model for both way convenient connections to Europe. Which for now Air India must implement on Singapore routes too as it operates Boeing 787-8 from both Delhi and Mumbai.

  2. Similar to Madrid and Melbourne connection, same applies to Singapore Madrid, one side it is just 2 hr layover, the other way it is 11 hr. There is no non stop flight between Singapore and Madrid as well, Air India can think of connecting east nations to Europe through New Delhi hub.

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