Lufthansa ignores its two largest markets for Airbus A380 flights USA and India in 2010

In a surprise move, German carrier Lufthansa will ignore its two largest markets, the United States and India, when commences its Airbus A380 uber-jumbo flights in couple of months.

Instead, the carrier will commence its A380 services between Frankfurt and Tokyo Narita first, and then Beijing, China. Johannesburg in South Africa will be the third A380 destination for the German airline.

Mr. Uwe Mueller, Vice President, Asia Pacific for Lufthansa, announced the new schedule for the Lufthansa A380s.

Flights between Tokyo and Frankfurt commence of June 11th, while Beijing will commence on August 25th. On both routes the A380s will fly thrice a week till the third and fourth A380 join the Lufthansa fleet, after which A380 service will be increased to a daily. Dates for the Johannesburg service have not been announced, but we can expect it only towards end 2010 when the fourth or even the fifth aircraft join the fleet.

Lufthansa will take the delivery of its first A380 registration D-AIMA named Frankfurt am Main on May 19. Its first long haul flight will be to carry the German national football team to Johannesburg on June 6th for participation in the FIFA World Cup 2010.

Dashing the hopes of many Indians

India is the second largest market for Lufthansa based on flight frequency after the United States. In December the airline was very confident of flying its A380 to New Delhi in India ahead of the Commonwealth Games scheduled for October 2010. Lufthansa has close ties to the Indian civil aviation industry and is the mentor to national carrier Air India’s entry in to the Star Alliance. Despite this, it appears three factors have put Delhi lower in the pecking order.

A. Uncertainty at the airline about the A380 readiness of IGI airport.

  • Runway 11-29 and its taxiways at Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport are fully Code F (read A380) compliant. The new integrated Terminal 3 or T3 as it is better known, which is the only terminal at Delhi capable of handling Code F aircraft is scheduled to commence operation by October this year ahead of the Commonwealth games.
  • The airport operator, GMR Group promoted Delhi International Airport Ltd. (DIAL), which has Fraport as a partner, is working all out and is expected to complete T3 before the games. Either the management at Lufthansa is not convinced, or it has not received a categoric “yes” from DIAL. Both are surprising when one considers that Fraport, the airport operator at Lufthansa’s home base, is part of the DIAL consortium.

B. Premium passenger yields

  • Lufthansa’s Airbus A380 has 526 seats. As previously reported by Bangalore Aviation, the upper deck houses an eight seat first class, and 98 seat business class. 420 economy class seats are on the main deck. While India has the passenger volumes, especially in the winter season from end October to mid March, to justify the economy class, it lags behind Japan and China in putting bodies in to the premium cabins.

C. Environmental concerns at Delhi

  • The suburb of Vasant Kunj lies directly below the path of the sole Code F compliant runway 29. In May 2008, residents of this upmarket and politically well connected suburb forced the government last year to limit night operations on runway 29. For now, since runway 10-28 is being re-carpeted, night operations on runway 11-29 are permitted. However there is uncertainty post October once the re-carpeting is completed. While DIAL is confident of winning the case since the Vasant Kunj suburb came up well after the airport, history shows, in India politics almost always triumphs over sound logic. Lufthansa would not want to commence an A380 service just to see it shut down.

Delayed deliveries by Airbus S.A.S.

Behind the scenes information suggests that the South Asia team at the airline is still fighting hard to get the Lufthansa A380 to India, but it appears they are being defeated by the delays at airframe manufacturer Airbus S.A.S.

Originally scheduled to deliver six of the super-jumbos during 2010, indications are that Airbus will manage only four. Even if Airbus manages to squeeze in a fifth delivery, it will be at the end of 2010, well after the peak rush season in India would have commenced, and long after the Commonwealth games would have closed.

Even a fifth aircraft will not ensure an A380 flight to Delhi as aircraft will be first used to buttress services to Tokyo, Beijing and Johannesburg.

It appears that the citizens of Delhi will have to wait until 2011 before they can see the giant operating regularly in the skies. In 2011, with increasing deliveries to early A380 operators Emirates and Singapore Airlines, both of whom have significant presence in India, it remains to be seen if Lufthansa will be the first A380 operator in India.

Has Lufthansa missed a golden PR opportunity? Your views please.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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