Pankaj Srivastava, Director-Commercial, Air India, speaks about the possibility of opening connectivity to Los Angeles. If the overflying permission to fly shorter routes comes sooner they will operate the Delhi-Tel Aviv flight, he says. Also, Air India plans to increase connectivity to Australia to 10 flights a week from Delhi.
PEDEN DOMA BHUTIA
Q. Air India will be taking delivery of six more planes from Boeing by March, 2018, out of which there will be three Boeing 777-300 ER planes. Will you be using them for any particular sector?
Out of the three plans, two will be used to transport VVVIPs and one will be inducted into the Air India fleet. We hope to use it for ultra long haul routes, which could perhaps be Los Angles or Houston.
Q. Instead of a direct Delhi-Tel Aviv connection there are now talks that there will be a Mumbai-Tel Aviv route? Has there been a change in plan? Is this because the Delhi-Tel Aviv route is longer?
The overflying permission for us to fly shorter routes haven’t come in as yet, the long route is very long, around 9.5 hours so it makes the entire route unviable and we haven’t decided yet that we would start from Mumbai. There was a speculation intially, but even from Mumbai, Tel Aviv is 8 hours so that too is long, we are hopeful that the overflying permissions will come in and once they do, we will operate the Delhi-Tel Aviv route. Let’s see how soon we get the permissions.
Q. What’s the kind of occupancy that you have seen in the Delhi- Copenhagen flight?
The response, so far, has been excellent. I just got a message from my manager there and he says that in the month of October we hit occupancy of 80 per cent and it’s only looking up.
Q. Former Air India CMD, Ashwani Lohani had announced some time ago about the possibility of launching direct flights to Los Angeles. Any news on that front?
We will probably wait for the Boeing 777-300 to come in for the Los Angeles sector.
Q. In a short span of about 4-5 years, Air India has added many international routes. What prompted the move?
We have added almost 17 international destinations in the last 4-5 years and this is largely because we started getting delivery of our 787s. The Dreamliner is an ideal aircraft to operate on destinations which are about 10 hours away. Since we were getting 27 of them, the ideal choice was to grow in Europe. For non-stop services, we earlier had only Frankfurt, Paris and London, but with Dreamliners we have started multiple operations into Heathrow, we have four flights a day into Heathrow and a daily flight to Birmingham. We have added Madrid, Vienna, Rome and Milan, Moscow, while Copenhagen and Stockholm are our latest additions. We now have been able to connect with about 11 destinations in Europe and because we were able to push 787s into Europe, we could free up some of the 777s on that sector and that’s how we started the San Francisco and Washington DC flights. In terms of nonstop services, today there’s no better way to fly out of India than Air India. Earlier since there was no non-stop service to these destinations, passengers would opt for Gulf or European carriers, but now Air India’s non-stop services have cut down the travel time by a good 4-5 hours.
Q. Are you planning to come up with any new routes in the next few months?
In terms of flying to new destinations there are none, but yes we have been trying to connect Chandigarh with Bangkok through a direct flight. We are mounting more number of flights to Australia from where we have daily flights, which we are now planning to increase to 10 flights a week–five to Sydney and five to Melbourne from Delhi. It’s a continuous process, we keep evaluating the market and as and when a resource gets ready we start the flight
Q. What about the domestic sector, any expansion plans there?
We are expanding our domestic sector especially after the government has announced its regional connectivity scheme. We have started taking a lot of capacity on a lease, especially for ATRs, and we have started flights to a number of destinations under the Regional Connectivity Scheme, the latest addition was a flight to Shirdi, through which we have connected Shirdi with Mumbai and Hyderabad. Air India has become a big network carrier and the strength of a network carrier is connectivity.