Thursday, December 18, 2008

Air India Manchester hub proposal

Dear All,

As promised earlier on, here is a detailed report that I have managed to compile concerning how Air India should restructure its North American operations from India with a scissors hub like strategy at a key European airport. For each route, intense research concerning market trends, traffic patterns have been analyzed hence the particular routing and choice of aircraft has been chosen for which adequate reasoning is provided. Please keep in mind that my EU hub plan revolves around AI's fleet of B 773ERs and the B 788 complimenting it on certain routes. Enjoy reading!

Current hub's problems (FRA and LHR):

Currently, AI's hubs for North American flights are at LHR and FRA. Both these airports are flooded with excess capacity, intense competition and lack of favorable timing slots that could accommodate further expansion possibilities for the airline to explore.
LHR can never be made into a "scissors hub" due to lack of slots available at times that AI would like and it is anyways a market segment that can easily support O&D nonstop terminator flights to BOM and DEL respectively without the need to add a tag on sector to North America.

There are rumors flirting around that AI is seriously contemplating making FRA or MUC its EU hub for onward flights to North America because of its strong Star Alliance presence that is evident at both airports. Though this idea might sound good on paper, it doesn't make any sense commercially. The main reasons for this are as follows:
a) Both FRA and MUC lack O&D traffic from India and already LH flies to all major Indian cities nonstop from FRA and to BOM/DEL from MUC.

b) An effective "hub" for an Indian carrier needs to be an European city that has a combination of decent O&D traffic from India + decent amount of trans-atlantic traffic + adequate Star Alliance presence + adequate cargo demand on India-Europe and Europe-North America routes and most of all little or no direct competition on India-Europe hub + Europe hub-North America flight sectors. Keeping in mind the points mentioned in this paragraph, both FRA and MUC fail to meet the criteria in most departments.

c) Trans-atlantic competition from FRA and MUC is huge with LH-UA-AC-US-CO-AA-DL all being fierce rivals striving for some sort of market share. Compared against these behemoth carriers, Air India has very little chance of getting even 30 passengers on board its flights from Germany to USA/Canada on a daily basis due to lack of brand awareness and marketing especially from MUC.

d) AI's trans-atlantic flights from FRA/MUC to USA/YYZ would be code shared with LH/UA/AC/CO and under the current code share arrangement that AI has with LH it is a relationship that is extremely one sided i.e. full in favor for LH and hardly anything in return for AI particularly when it comes to gaining inventory seat access on their respective Germany-India flights.

Current nonstop flights (BOM-JFK + DEL-JFK) problems:

Existing flights of Air India to USA operate in the following manner:

a) AMD-BOM-LHR-EWR daily B 744s
b) BOM-JFK nonstop daily B 772LR
c) BOM-FRA-ORD daily B 773ER
d) DEL-JFK nonstop daily B 772LR

The main problems concern the nonstop flights to JFK and the EWR flight routed via Heathrow. With regards to the nonstop flights, they should not have been flown to JFK because the NYC-BOM/DEL market is already over crowded and instead nonstop flights to STAR hubs in USA should have been flown to nonstop such as DEL-IAD, BOM-ORD or to EWR. Both IAD and ORD routes too see no nonstop flights on those particular sectors.

If AI still insist on wanting to keep the double daily JFK nonstop flights online, they should instead re-route it in the following manner :

i) DEL-JFK should be rerouted ATQ-DEL-JFK
ii) BOM-JFK should be rerouted AMD-BOM-EWR

Abolish First Class from entire B 777 and B 744 fleet:

Unfortunately for Air India, it doesn't have the "premium brand name recognition" that other airlines such as EK/BA/LH/AF/CX/SQ/JL/QF have that would warrant a First Class cabin being installed on board its flights. They should look and see for themselves how unsuccessful 9W were getting revenue paying passengers on board their SFO and EWR flights in the first class cabin and see that it is totally unjustified.

A majority of AI passengers in the first class are "free upgrades" due to their respective connections within the airline or through their importance in India politically, economically or socially. The installment of the F class cabin on board its B 772LR fleet in particular is a hindrance because it reduces the number of seats on board to a meager 236 only which is too small for such an aircraft. If the first class cabin is removed, 27 more economy class seats can easily be added thus adding to the revenue generation of the flight.

Configuration of Boeing 787-800 (788) fleet:

The Boeing 787-800 is officially designed to hold 220 passengers in a standard 3 class configuration. According to many sources, Air India plans to configure its B 788s with 225 seats in a 2 class configuration i.e. business and economy which is perfect. However, it must ensure that the in-flight in seat product in both business and economy class are of the same standard that is offered on their new B 773ER and B 772LR fleet. This means all business class seats have to have a fully reclinable flat bed and the economy class seat should have a 35 inch seat pitch along with an in seat massage.

By having a standardized in flight product across its long haul fleet which will last for a decade and a half at least, it will be appreciated by its passengers and will not result in their dissatisfaction which is currently the problem as to EWR/YYZ, AI uses its old B 744s/B 772s with the old inflight product where as to JFK its with a newer aircraft with a more modern product on offer.

Choice of EU hub should be: MAN-Manchester, UK

My main reasons to make Air India seriously consider making Manchester its EU hub for onward North American flights are as follows:

a) Manchester is the second largest city in the UK and also its second highest premium market after London. The city and its greater sub-urban areas have a total population of approximately 150,000 Indians. However, the total population of the number of immigrant Indians residing in the UK Midlands and Northern England area all of which are within a 2 hour driving radius of Manchester Airport (including BHX-Birmingham) numbers over 450,000.

b) Ever since Air India suspended its flights to Manchester approximately 15 years ago, no airline has yet to launch nonstop direct flights from Manchester to India where passenger and cargo demand for a nonstop link definitely does exist. The biggest India markets from MAN are to BOM/DEL/ATQ and AMD respectively.

c) Currently, passengers from MAN fly to India using either Emirates, Qatar Airways, E2tihad Airways, British Airways, Air France, KLM or Lufthansa via their respective hubs which at times can prove to be hassle some. For nonstop flights, passengers and air cargo agents will not mind paying a small premium for the convenience that it provides them with.

d) If Air India chooses MAN as its UK hub airport, it will have a monopoly strong hold on MAN-India and certain MAN-North America nonstop routes for which it can dictate pricing due to this enviable position of theirs which can definitely help increase passenger and cargo revenue yield; hence a key factor for them to seriously consider.

e) Air India too would hold a monopoly on the trans-atlantic sectors for "scheduled flights" flown from MAN to cities such as LAX/YYZ/SFO/IAH/IAD. On these routes, no airline flies nonstop scheduled daily or weekly flights which provides Air India with an extra incentive to fly them as UA/AC/CO will definitely want to have a code share on these routes thus providing AI with value able marketing tools and feeder business / leisure traffic.

f) With regards to air cargo, Manchester is located in the industrial heart land of the UK where over 70% of England's industrial output originates from. If Air India can sign a deal with a well established cargo trucking company from MAN airport that can forward its freight to the markets of EMA/BHX/NCL/LBA, it can make a lot of money as all these cities are within a 2 hour driving radius of Manchester Airport. FYI, Ahmedabad-AMD in India is known as the "Manchester of the East".

g) As for Star Alliance's presence at MAN airport, all of them fly multiple daily flights to their hubs at various times of the day. Star carriers that fly into MAN are LX/LH/SK/SN/OS and BMI. If Air India gets a code sharing agreement in place for destinations such as CPH/ZRH/BRU/LIS/MUC/FRA with SAS/LX/LH/SN/TP, it can get a fair amount of 6th freedom traffic on its planes from USA/India via MAN to these destinations.

Corportate traffic from Manchester:

Apart from the reasons mentioned in the previous sub-topic, there is also a great deal of corporate traffic to be tapped out of MAN as its the second largest corporate air travel market in the UK after London. It is the commercial, cultural and educational hub for the Midlands and Northern UK region.

In MAN, over 15,000 people are employed in the banking/financial institutions which number over 50 in the city. It has the second largest "office market" in the UK after London, 65 of the top 100 companies on the FTSE (London Stock Exchange) are located in the city, it is the home of 2 world famous soccer teams as well as Lancashire county cricket club which are all head quartered at Old Trafford.

If AI can also develop BOM or DEL into an effective hub, it can get a fair amount of 6th freedom traffic bound to BKK/ICN/NRT/HKG/SIN/KUL via BOM or DEL hence allowing them to diversify their passenger base rather than being entirely reliant upon O&D traffic!


India-Manchester-North America "flight routing" structure:

2 B 773ERs for daily BOM-MAN-ORD (same plane service)
2 B 773ERs for daily DEL-MAN-JFK (same plane service)

1 B 773ER for daily MAN-SFO-MAN (aircraft to be based at MAN for turn around)
1 B 773ER for daily MAN-EWR-MAN (aircraft to be based at MAN for turn around)

1 B 773ER for daily MAN-LAX-MAN (aircraft to be based at MAN for turn around)

1 B 788 for daily MAA-MAN-MAA
1 B 788 for daily ATQ-MAN-ATQ
1 B 788 for daily MAN-YYZ-MAN (aircraft to be based at MAN for turn around)
2 B 788s for daily BLR-MAN-IAH
(same plane service)
2 B 788s for daily HYD-MAN-IAD
(same plane service)
1 B 788 for daily AMD-MAN-AMD

India-Manchester-North America "flight timings" structure via MAN:

AI 127 Dep BOM 0230 Arr MAN 0730 // AI 127 Dep MAN 1100 Arr ORD 1345

AI 126 Dep ORD 1100 Arr MAN 0735+1 // AI 126 Dep MAN 1020 Arr BOM 2350

AI 151 Dep MAN 0945 Arr SFO 1245 // AI 150 Dep SFO 1415 Arr MAN 0825+1

AI 153 Dep DEL 0200 Arr MAN 0740 // AI 153 Dep MAN 1010 Arr JFK 1300
AI 152 Dep JFK 1910 Arr MAN 0720+1 // AI 152 Dep MAN 0955 Arr DEL 2355

AI 187 Dep MAN 1000 Arr YYZ 1250 // AI 186 Dep YYZ 1930 Arr MAN 0630+1

AI 145 Dep MAN 1030 Arr EWR 1320 // AI 144 Dep EWR 1900 Arr MAN 0710+1

AI 160 Dep MAN 0920 Arr LAX 1250 // AI 159 Dep LAX 1420 Arr MAN 0840+1

AI 162 Dep MAA 0215 Arr MAN 0825 // AI 161 Dep MAN 0950 Arr MAA 0035+1

AI 164 Dep ATQ 0145 Arr MAN 0645 // AI 163 Dep MAN 1100 Arr ATQ 2350

AI 166 Dep BLR 0155 Arr MAN 0825 // AI 166 Dep MAN 1005 Arr IAH 1430

AI 165 Dep IAH 1630 Arr MAN 0745+1 // AI 165 Dep MAN 0945 Arr MAN 0025+1

AI 168 Dep HYD 0210 Arr MAN 0810 // AI 168 Dep MAN 1015 Arr IAD 1415
AI 167 Dep IAD 1800 Arr MAN 0735 // AI 167 Dep MAN 0955 Arr HYD 0005+1

AI 174 Dep MAN 1030 Arr AMD 2350 // AI 173 Dep AMD 0220 Arr MAN 0715


Notes for above proposed flight schedule:

As you can see from the schedule that I have created above, all North American flights would connect with every single major Indian city in both directions via MAN thus enabling an effective "scissors hub" to be created at MAN for Air India to seriously pursue. The transit time at MAN would range from 1 hour 20 minutes to 3 hours maximum depending on the destination.

Approximately, the aircraft is on the ground in India and in MAN for 1-3 hours maximum which allows for a quick aircraft turn around rather than having it parked for 6-8 hours at a stretch.

For certain routes such as BOM-MAN-ORD, DEL-MAN-JFK, BLR-MAN-IAH and HYD-MAN-IAD, I have purposely made it into a "same plane service" as that would be a good marketing gimmick to help sell the flights. Unfortunately, I didn't ask for an ATQ-MAN-YYZ same plane service because the fog season in ATQ (Dec-Feb) would ruin the flight timings during that period thus in-convening passengers.

On certain trans-atlantic routes with AI's entry into Star Alliance, it should hopefully get a code sharing agreement in place with CO for MAN-IAH/EWR, AC for MAN-YYZ and with UA for MAN-LAX/SFO/ORD/IAD. FYI, CO only flies MAN-EWR double daily where as from IAH it doesnt and UA/AC dont fly to MAN at all so this is an area where some form of extra revenue can be generated by AI. UA along with AC too could code share on AI's MAN-India flights in the same way they do via FRA/ZRH with LH/LX.

Why secondary routes like AMD-MAN + ATQ-MAN need to be flown daily:

AMD and ATQ operations are currently the gold mine of the Air India long haul international route network because they serve a large niche market both in the UK and USA/YYZ which lack convenient flights into the city. AMD though has now got QR and EK but from UK and JFK/YYZ/IAD/UK only where as at ATQ has no direct competitor to the UK and North America.

The very fact that AMD is included on the EWR flight path is arguably the biggest reason for AI's EWR operation being the most profitable in North America consistently for the past 4 years. Gujratis now are tired of having to change planes and terminals at BOM or DEL to reach AMD and would pay extra money to fly directly into their hometown airport from NYC either on AI, EK or QR.

Between the area of BHX and MAN resides the world's largest expat Sikh community. An approximate 250,000 Sikhs reside in this region and their main Indian gateway airports are either ATQ or DEL. In the past, AI has been mildly successful with its ATQ-BHX flights catering specifically towards the traffic needs of this community. What AI needs to do to recapture the Sikhs residing in BHX/EMA/LBA to fly them from MAN is to offer free bus services from the airports from those cities or a downtown location to MAN airport nonstop so that passengers don't have to in-convene themselves by driving 2 hours to get to MAN from where ever they are located.

For both ATQ and AMD, flying a dedicated terminator flight using a 225 seater Boeing 787-800 is more than enough to meet the passenger and cargo demand needs of both market segments.

Why is a B 788 being chosen to fly BLR-MAN and not B 773ER?

Quite simply put, the BLR market may be high yielding and filled with premium passengers bound to UK and USA but that's not the case with the economy class cabin. BLR now has an over capacity of some sorts with all major Asian, Arab and European airlines now flying daily or at least 4-5 times a week into the city nonstop from their respective hubs.

But the bottom line is that its catchment market size is not big enough as DEL/BOM to warrant a 350 seater B 773ER being used to fly from there. The 225 seater B 788 is the ideal aircraft size to be used to MAN from BLR to feed it with passengers arriving bound to/from UK/Western Europe/USA and Canada.

Do SFO/LAX/IAH/YYZ/IAD warrant daily flights?:

Yes they do. California-India traffic is high volume and has a lot of corporate high yielding traffic. There are nearly 500,000 Indians residing in the state alone and with having an effective hub at MAN which will connect to all major Indian cities, both SFO and LAX stand a good chance of doing well. AI also needs a minimum of daily flights into both these markets to compete effectively against EK/BA/CX/SQ/CI/LH/CO/DL/AA who also have daily flights to India via their respective hubs. From LAX/SFO as well, AI can pick up some useful 5th freedom traffic bound to MAN/Northern England.

YYZ warrants a daily flight using a B 788 and not a B 773ER because its market dynamics are different than that from the U.S. Its airport landing/ground handling costs are much higher, traffic is lower yielding and the market is largely bound to DEL/BOM/ATQ and not as wide spread as the LAX/SFO-India market is. In the city, approximately 420,000 Indians reside so the demand is there year round to exploit as well as 5th freedom traffic especially in the peak summer season months to MAN.

With regards to IAH, it has one of the largest concentrations of Indians residing in the U.S. numbering over 200,000. However, its a new market for an Indian carrier to venture into and hence the B 788 is the perfect size aircraft to launch services with to this part of the U.S.

As far as IAD is concerned, an approximate 150,000 reside in the IAD/BWI/RIC area. From IAD to DEL/BOM, there is a lot of high yielding political/diplomatic/business traffic that can be tapped into especially bound to DEL. For this market too, due to its smaller size compared to ORD/SFO/LAX/NYC, the B 788 is the perfect aircraft to use here. From IAD, a lot of feeder traffic bound to Florida, ATL, BOS and other regional catchment areas can be obtained through a code share/SPA with UA.

Sales / Marketing strategies for AI to undertake to promote MAN:

The following sales/marketing strategies need to be undertaken by AI to aggressively promote its MAN hub and its trans-atlantic/MAN-India flights :

1. Sign a deal with popular online travel websites in the UK such as Expedia UK and Travelocity UK. These 2 websites along with Orbitz in USA will help sell a lot of trans-atlantic and a few USA/MAN-India tickets.

2. Sign a worldwide deal with AMEX, HRG and Carlson Wagonlit corporate travel agencies standardizing commission offerings to them to provide them an incentive to sell high yielding business and economy class fares on AI to/from MAN worldwide. A lot of potential exists here especially on trans-atlantic travel by employees of MAN based corporate insitutions.

3. Place a strong emphasis on cargo as that will generate a lot of revenue across the board. Each of AI's flights can carry between 10-14 tons of cargo depending if its a B 788 or B 773ER being used.

4. AI along with help from Tourism India should sign a deal with Thomas Cook and Thomson Holidays to sell tourism packages to India from the markets of Northern UK and the Midlands region.


Though many might feel that MAN is too low yielding of a market for AI to pursue making into a hub compared to FRA/MUC which are already well established Star Alliance hub airports, the bottom line is that traffic demand from MAN and its surrounding areas to India is far higher than it is from FRA/MUC.

With MAN being the hub, it allows AI to fly on routes route that witness very little direct competition across the board, not be entirely dependent upon USA/YYZ traffic to fill up their flights to/from India as there is good demand from BOM/DEL/ATQ/AMD especially to MAN thus allowing the carrier to diversify its revenue stream across different market segments to fill up their flights.

At FRA/MUC, a big disadvantage can be slot timings and being at the mercy of being dictated to by LH/UA/AC on what it can and cannot do which wont sit well with the carrier's management board. It is better opening up a new market segment and creating a "fresh hub with fresh ideas" and adopt a new business model rather than stick with its 1980's O&D business model which has been a failure on its long haul sectors.

I hope that this report was an interesting and compelling read. I'm sure that there are some who would disagree with me and some that would agree with me, so please do reply back with your feedback/comments/criticisms etc as they shall be welcomed. Lastly, if you know any Management level staff at Air India involved with route network planning, operations, fleet scheduling etc, please be kind enough to forward this email to them.

Thank you, have a wonderful Christmas and New Years,


Anonymous said...

I am mukunth a regular visitor of ur blog. Your analysis was too good. I hope you are The Person that Air India needs in the future.

I am sure Manchester would provide a boost to the ailing load factors of AI. I am not sure if its anywhere on the consideration table. I remember there were some rumours about using Vienna or Milan (MXP)-to tap the onward market resulting from the fall the of AZ.

Thanks for all those interesting informations man.

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