| Passengers in business class and (below) a single suite inside the Airbus A380. (Reuters, AFP)
New Delhi, Oct. 25: India will be ready to welcome the Airbus A380 from next year if any foreign airline is willing to fly the world’s biggest passenger plane to this country.
No Indian airport is yet capable of handling the superjumbo although a display A380 was flown to Delhi and Mumbai earlier this year.
“Hyderabad will be the first Indian airport capable of commercially receiving A380s by March next year,” said Arun Arora, spokesperson for Delhi international airport.
Bangalore is next in the line, followed by Delhi. The Calcutta and Chennai airports, which are being modernised, can follow suit if they widen their runways and build double-decker aerobridges (see chart).
If foreign airlines decide that their Indian routes do not need the luxury aircraft, the country may have to wait four years. Kingfisher is expected to get by 2011 the first of the five A380s it has ordered and hopes to fly on European and US routes.
Air India, too, is considering buying 10 of the Rs 1,267-crore planes for congested routes like Mumbai-New York, where it already flies three aircraft daily. A committee will hand in its report by the end of November.
“We feel that not only Mumbai, but even cities like Calcutta, Bangalore and Hyderabad will throw up heavy traffic on certain long-haul routes,” an official connected with the committee evaluation said.
Even if Air India made up its mind today, no A380s would be available before 2011 – the company already has 165 orders from international carriers.
Officials said the state-run carrier’s decision will take longer, perhaps six months to a year, as it involves several steps leading to a cabinet nod.
Kingfisher’s contract with Airbus specifies it has to be the first Indian airline to operate the superjumbo, which means Air India can receive deliveries only after the first A380 has been sold to the Bangalore-based private airline.
Air India will be trying to gather intelligence if rival airlines plan to fly their brand new A380s into India.
“If the others do that, we have to compete with similar products. Not necessarily A380s, maybe the Boeing 787 Dreamliner — but there is an element of competition in this,” an Air India official said.
Conversely, the upcoming competition from Air India and Kingfisher may spur some global carriers, who may now see India as “a cattle-class destination”, to consider flying in the giant double-deckers.
“Under normal circumstances, I don’t think any of the foreign carriers who are buying A380s are likely to fly them into India. But given competition from Indian carriers, they might rethink their strategies,” said U.K. Bose, former Air Sahara chief executive.