India’s Kingfisher Airlines is preparing to launch its first two international routes, connecting Bangalore and Mumbai with London Heathrow, at the end of August or beginning of September.
The carrier also is aiming to begin its first US route, connecting Bangalore with San Francisco, in September or October.
Kingfisher chairman Vijay Mallya confirms the carrier has secured two slot pairs at Heathrow and London will be its first international destination, with daily service from both Bangalore and Mumbai.
“We will start between 31 August and 3 September,” Mallya told a group of reporters during an unveiling yesterday of Kingfisher’s new Airbus A330-200 at the Farnborough airshow.
The aircraft at Farnborough is Kingfisher’s second A330-200 and was delivered last week. Its first A330-200 is now in Bangalore, where it is being used for pilot training.
Kingfisher over the next two months will take another three A330-200s plus five A340-500s. Mallya says the five A330s will be used to operate the new London services plus services from Mumbai to Hong Kong and Singapore.
He says Kingfisher as a new entrant at Heathrow has inherited the slot pair previously used by Brazil’s VRG, which earlier this year dropped all of its long-haul services. He adds Kingfisher has leased a second slot pair for an undisclosed sum from an undisclosed carrier which could become a codeshare partner.
Kingfisher will compete against British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Jet Airways and Air India on the Mumbai-London route but Mallya says there is enough demand to support all five carriers.
“London is a must-go destination for an Indian,” he says.
Kingfisher will only compete against BA between Bangalore and London. Mallya says the booming southern India market can easily sustain a second service.
Mallya says the carrier’s first batch of A340-500s will be used on a Bangalore-San Francisco service. “We will start in September or October,” he adds.
Kingfisher has been touting Bangalore-San Francisco since it ordered the A340-500 in 2006. Mallya says connecting the two IT hubs is attractive even in today’s environment because IT is one sector not impacted by the oil prices or slowing economy.
“For the Bangalore-San Francisco sector there’s a lot of demand. It’s a unique product because no one else offers it non-stop,” Mallya says.
Kingfisher was also planning to serve New York from Mumbai using the A340-500 but Mallya says this may be scrapped because there is already too much capacity in this market given current demand. “The New York flight we’re looking at very closely,” he says.
Kingfisher hopes to begin selling tickets on its initial batch of international services next month.
All of Kingfisher’s A330s and A340s will be in two-class configuration consisting of economy and “Kingfisher First”. Mallya calls the latter a “super business product” which will be priced “slightly higher than business class prices”.
Kingfisher First is basically a first class product without the divider between seats, which Mallya says is “unnecessary” in today’ environment.
There is also a “social area” in Kingfisher First, with a staffed bar, two sofas and bar stools. He says in the carrier’s A340-500s there will be two bars in Kingfisher First and a smaller one in economy.
Mallya says he got the idea of the bar from the Boeing 747, which used to have bars in the upstairs.
“We don’t see them anymore. They’ve all been replaced by seats,” he says.
Kingfisher’s widebody fleet will also feature a custom-designed first class seat from B/E Aerospace and an IFE system with large individual screens from Thales.
“It will be the best in the sky and the best in the sky won’t come cheap,” Mallya says.