New Delhi: India and Ireland are likely to expand their air services pact to allow their flag carriers—Air India and Aer Lingus, respectively—to start flying to the two countries, said a civil aviation ministry official familiar with the development.
The move comes as Air India is set to consider Ireland’s Dublin airport as a potential new hub in Europe for its one-stop flights between India and the US, he said.
Air India, run by National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, has been scouting for an airport in Europe that’s cheaper to operate than its current hub in Frankfurt, Germany.
The airline’s chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav and senior civil aviation ministry officials will inspect the airport in the Irish capital this fortnight, the ministry official said.
The airports at Copenhagen, Denmark and Vienna, Austria are also likely hubs. But Dublin offers an advantage as the only European airport where passengers can clear immigration for the US, and avoid long queues at congested airports such as New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Another ministry official said it was too early to take a decision on moving to a new hub in Europe, given that Air India is fighting for a government bailout to remain afloat.
Questions sent by email to Dublin Airport Authority Plc ., which manages Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports in Ireland, remained unanswered.
A London-based aviation analyst said the facility of US immigration clearance was drawing even European airlines to Dublin.
“British Airways(BA) recently started an all-business A318 service from London City Airport to New York JFK with a fuel stop in Dublin on the outbound only,” he said.
“BA has added the benefit of pre-clearing US immigration in a dedicated queue, so the stop actually doesn’t delay passengers, particularly non-US passport holders, as it can take up to an hour to clear immigration in JFK,” the analyst said. He too didn’t want to be named.
Besides Ireland’s Dublin and Shannon airports, only some Canadian and Caribbean airports offer US immigration clearance outside US territory.
The analyst, however, said Air India needs to look at its options carefully “as there is no India-Ireland traffic”.
Though airports like Frankfurt charge a higher fee, they attract more business class fliers, which can partly offset the costs for a carrier, he added.
“It would be better to stop/hub in Manchester or Birmingham (both in the UK), where there are sizeable Indian communities,” he said. “The catchment area of these cities is also much larger.”