Simultaneously, the airline plans to deploy ATR-72 planes on some routes that are mostly in north-eastern states and currently served by the Airbus A320.
The ATR-72 (72 seats) is more profitable than the 180-seater A320 on shorter routes. In its filing, IndiGo has indicated it will launch regional operations between Hyderabad and Nagpur from November 10. While Hyderabad and Nagpur will be its southern and western hubs, the airline plans to cover the east and north-eastern region from Kolkata and Delhi.
“The destinations are all either religious or industrial hubs, there will be no shortage of traffic and IndiGo will have the advantage of having extensive connectivity to become the carrier of choice in these routes,” a rival airline official said.
IndiGo’s proposal will be taken up for approval by the civil aviation regulator later this month.
The management has said commercial operations will start by the end of this year, and the airline will have seven ATR planes by next March.
“Documentation work with the aircraft and engine manufacturers continues towards finalisation of the purchase agreements and currently our plan is to launch the commercial operations by the end of this calendar year,” IndiGo’s President Aditya Ghosh said in a conference call. IndiGo declined to comment on queries on the topic. The airline, which has a market share of 40 per cent, has found it difficult to open new routes that can be operated profitably with its A320 planes. In a strategy shift in May, it changed its single-fleet policy, placing a $1.3-billion order for 50 ATR-72 planes.
“IndiGo could open new routes in Central and North India which are not big enough to handle a A320 but can be operated with smaller ATRs. Also it can connect new destinations from Mumbai and Delhi, subject to availability of slots,” said Ameya Joshi, founder of aviation blog Network Thoughts.
The airline will participate in the second round of bidding for the regional connectivity scheme and has asked the civil aviation ministry to remove the exclusivity clause, which gives a successful bidder a monopoly over a route for three years.
“What IndiGo has recommended is a complete removal of exclusivity clause because it wants to also fly from airports which have been bid out in the first round,” a senior civil aviation ministry official said. If allowed, the airline will compete against Alliance Air and SpiceJet. Both the airlines participate in the regional connectivity scheme and fly to destinations such as Vijayawada and Gorakhpur.
The airline's ATR network could see some tweaks based on the approval of slots at congested airports, availability of pilots, and successful bids in the regional connectivity scheme.
The airline’s plans may face a major hurdle due to infrastructure and human resource shortage. Congestion in Delhi and Mumbai airports have forced the operators to deny any new slots to airlines while the industry faces a challenge to find pilots for smaller planes.
"It will be very difficult to get slots at Mumbai and Delhi. Both airports have denied slots for operators for a very long time due to runway capacity constraints. Also IndiGo may have to rework its ATR aircraft schedules as North India is impacted by fog till mid-February,” an analyst said.
The airline is trying to lure expat pilots by paying higher than the market salary ($17,164 per month) to counter scarcity. A Delhi Airport spokesperson did not respond to queries.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that IndiGo was planning 170 flights a day on regional routes
A senior airport official said that it would be very difficult to give early morning slots to IndiGo’s smaller planes.