Pre-winter winds from the west this year have come as a curse for India’s biggest airline IndiGo, with the aviation safety regulator asking the airline to fly to destinations for which it needs to fly into the Westerlies with a load penalty. This would primarily affect the airline’s flights from Delhi to Istanbul — a route on which the airline did not carry luggage of passengers in its last few flights owing to the headwinds.
A senior official at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said that the airline has been asked to limit its passenger capacity to 157 people on the 186-seater A320neo planes and to 173 people on the 222-seater A321neo aircraft. “The load penalty has been imposed for the next 2-3 months till the situation improves to ensure passenger safety and convenience,” the official said.
Westerlies, or winds from the west, are generally encountered by aircraft in the months ahead of winters. While for those aircraft that are flying towards the east, the winds, also known as jet-streams, provide a tail push that allows planes to gain speed without burning more fuel, these winds are a problem for pilots flying into them as the aircraft encounter significant drag. This leads to additional fuel burn and increased flight durations.
For IndiGo, which operates two daily flights to the Turkish capital from Delhi, the load penalty could result in lower yields — particularly for the A321neo that typically burns more fuel than its smaller sibling and therefore demands a higher revenue per available seat kilometre to generate sustainable yields.
In an episode that tested the limits of the largest aircraft in the airline’s fleet, checked-in baggage of several passengers on “few” of IndiGo’s Delhi-Istanbul flights last week was left behind on account of “exceptionally heavy headwinds” on the route. When aircraft fly into headwinds, they consume more fuel. To operate a non-stop flight on a route with heavy headwinds, an aircraft needs to carry higher amount of fuel, especially for those with a distance that is on the higher end of the aircraft’s flying range. In a statement released on Monday, the airline had said it upgraded its aircraft and adjusted the payload as long as the prevailing wind conditions remained.