Mumbai: Buoyed by the successful launch of its non-stop Mumbai-New York flight on 1 August 2007, Air India is planning to add more such destinations in the US from various Indian cities and proposes to acquire more aircraft for this purpose.
Air India is now looking at connecting cities like Chicago, Washington and Houston in the US and Vancouver and Toronto in Canada to India through direct flights.
This is apart from the already planned non-stop Delhi-New York non-stop flight in December-January and then Bangalore-San Francisco in May next year with the eight Boeing 777-200 LRs to be acquired by then, V. Thulasidas, chairman, Air India said.
V. Thulasidas, chairman, Air India
Thulasidas feels the Indian cities that could generate adequate traffic for such non-stop flights are Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Amritsar, apart from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
The Mumbai-New York flight is being operated by the first two of the eight Boeing 777-200 LRs which have been inducted into the fleet.
The aircraft has state-of-the-art facilities and conveniences including a horizontal bed in first-class and business class and on-board entertainment in the economy class.
The flight has been scheduled in such a manner that it would now be possible for business travellers to go to New York and return the same night, thereby saving on hotel charges and valuable time, Thulasidas said.
Thulasidas, however, made it clear that the new destinations would be considered only after Air India got more aircraft.
“Besides, we will have to ensure that there is adequate traffic for our first and business class segments,” he said.
The eight aircraft would suffice only for running the present schedules of three destinations for direct flights to the US.
But Air India would be launching more flights to destinations in the US with a halt in Europe once it starts getting delivery of Dreamliner Boeing 787 from September 2008.
It has ordered 23 Boeing 787s as a part of the 68 aircraft it would be acquiring for nearly $10-billion.
The merged Air India-Indian Airlines has ordered 111 new Boeing and Airbus aircraft whose delivery would be completed by 2011. It is acquiring 43 Airbus 320, 319 and 321, mostly for domestic operations.
With growing air traffic in the country and recognising the need to have more aircraft to cater to this demand, India’s national flag-carrier has started already working for acquiring 60 more aircraft.
Thulasidas said the Air India board was expected to take a decision on acquisition of more aircraft by September, which would then go to the Centre for its approval.
The new acquisitions would also be a blend of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, he said, adding that in the short-term, it may also look at leasing aircraft.
Offers have already come for leasing six long-haul aircraft, he said.
The merged airline would have to grow to a size of around 250 aircraft to match some of its global competitors like Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways, he said.
With the present acquisition of aircraft and phasing out of some other aircraft, Air India’s fleet strength would be around 140. This is expected to go up to 200 if its plan to order 60 more aircraft materialises.
To maintain the growth momentum, Air India will have to chalk out plans to acquire at least 10-12 aircraft on a yearly basis as was being done by major global players.
“This will also enable us to have a young fleet and regularly phase out aircraft which are over 10 years, Thulasidas said, adding that “we should move away from the system of ordering a large number of aircraft at one shot and then keeping quiet for 10 years.” he said.
Air India is also working on a plan to create an European hub and another hub in Asia, preferably in Hong Kong.