State-owned Air India, which on Wednesday launched its first non-stop flight to New York from Mumbai, has decided to fly without a hop to the US megapolis from New Delhi from 7 January next year.
The direct flights are part of an aggressive international expansion by the Delhi-run carrier, which is in the middle of a merger with domestic affiliate Indian.
Air India is considering ordering eight Airbus SAS A380s, the world’s largest passenger jet that can fly more than 850 passengers in an all-economy seat configuration on long-haul routes such as Mumbai-London.
As part of this expansion, the Union government has asked Air India to look for a hub in Vienna apart from Munich in Europe to launch hub-and-spoke operations.
A meeting of top officials of Air India and Indian was held here on Thursday with civil aviation minister Praful Patel reviewing the action taken by them in the past few weeks to synergize their operations.
The meeting was informed about recent talks between Air India chairman V. Thulasidas and Lufthansa board member Carl Garnnet about the Indian carrier’s plans to establish a European hub, with Munich being one of the airports, sources said. The minister is understood to have asked the airline to look at other European airports as well, including Vienna, for which talks could be held with Austrian Airways.
The move by the state-run airline to establish a European hub to launch what it calls ‘scissor operations’ to North America comes in the wake of its private competitor Jet Airways India Ltd establishing a similar operational hub at Brussels.
Air India, which already flies to several European cities, such as Frankfurt, London, Paris and Birmingham, is likely to have at least five to six daily flights arriving at the European hub from different parts of India, and transfer passengers to other Air India planes bound for destinations beyond.
The airline has already decided to streamline its global and domestic operations and launch new services.
Air India, which purchased planes from the start of winter schedule in the end of September, said it would launch a Delhi-Frankfurt-San Francisco flight from 27 October, besides the one to Los Angeles. It would also have a flight from Mumbai to these two American cities via Frankfurt, thereby delinking the earlier service connecting Mumbai and Delhi to these destinations.
Over the next few years, Air India plans to push forward its international operations with a new fleet. Apart from Wednesday’s start of non-stop flights from Mumbai to New York, more connections are planned to other business capitals in the US, Europe, Africa and South America.
Some of the high-volume routes that the proposed Air India A380s could fly to include London’s Heathrow Airport, from Mumbai and Delhi, as well as Munich, Chicago and New York, Air India said in a presentation in July.
Air India’s schedule of flights connecting Indian cities to West Asia and South-East Asia have been rationalized, with most of them becoming effective from the winter schedule. Both Air India and Indian used to operate on most of these foreign routes earlier, besides competing with each other.
Several new flights will be introduced raising the total number of Air India Express operations from the present 130 flights to 200. These include new and additional flights from Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and points in Kerala among others.
For instance, Air India Express would launch new flights like Mumbai-Port Blair-Phuket or Mumbai-Cairo-Tehran or even a New Delhi-Tashkent operation.
The sources said the meeting was briefed about the synergies being worked out in several other areas of operation of the two airlines, including ground handling and equipment sharing.
They said synergy in ground handling would enable the merged entity to earn at least Rs50 crore per annum in just five major airports including New Delhi and Mumbai.
Tarun Shukla of Mint contributed to this story.