Slots at Heathrow are highly coveted and scarce. In the past, airlines spent millions of dollars to lease or purchase them from other carriers. Air India has obtained three additional slot pairs free of cost on a temporary basis in winter season, apart from the 28 pairs of slots it already has. It will operate 11 flights between Mumbai-London Heathrow in February and March.
“On passenger demand, Air India is going to introduce 11 special flights from Mumbai to London Heathrow. This service will start from February 14. We are in discussion with Heathrow airport authorities for this service on full-year basis and are hopeful our request will be accepted,” said an Air India spokesperson.
With over 700,000 annual passengers and 21 per cent market share Air India is the largest carrier on India-United Kingdom routes.
Emirates and British Airways are ranked second and third. Currently, the national carrier operates 28 weekly services to Heathrow from Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, New Delhi and Mumbai. It also flies to Birmingham and London Stansted airports.
London is the busiest long-haul destination from India and critical for Indian carriers with global plans. Vistara has secured slots at London Gatwick airport and is in talks with other airlines to lease slots at Heathrow. South America-based Synergy Group, which has expressed interest in reviving Jet Airways, too, is looking for slots at the airport.
Among the UK carriers, Virgin Atlantic has resumed flights to Mumbai and is adding a second daily service to Delhi. British Airways, too, added thrice weekly service between London-Mumbai last year.
Slots at Heathrow airport are managed by a company called Airport Coordination (ACL).
“Air India has been allocated ad hoc slots, which will not gain any historic precedence for future season. The slots utilise those that other carriers have cancelled. The carriers remain entitled to these slots in the subsequent season. Air India can apply for ad hoc slots for each season but there is no guarantee that there will be sufficient available to satisfy the request,” Richard Cann, ACL's head of coordination, said in an email response.