AI’s plan to rule the skies

After starting four international flights last year, Air India is all set to start six new international routes in 2017, the first one being Delhi-Kochi-Dubai.

Amidst negative media reports on its ‘On time Performance’ (OTP), Air India has announced a number of new international and domestic flights, which will start operating in the next one year. Ashwani Lohani, Chairman and Managing Director, Air India, revealed, “From February 1, 2017, we will be starting a brand new 787 aircraft between DelhiKochi-Dubai. This was a long pending demand to start the 787 on the prestigious DelhiKochi sector. It will be a daily flight and we are targeting travellers between Delhi and Kochi as well as Kochi and Dubai. There is a big market for both these sectors and the Dreamliner will be a different product.”

He added that they are going to start a dozen international flights and around 22 routes in the domestic sector. The Delhi-Copenhagen direct flight would start operations this May, and there will be another flight between Delhi-Washington in July. “Apart from the new destination to the US, we will have four new planes coming in this year. Hence, we can cover four more destinations. We are currently thinking of connecting six destinations in total this year, via 787s and 777s,” Lohani said. He informed they would increase frequency to Sydney, Melbourne, which would go from four times and thrice in a week respectively, to five days a week for both the destinations. Apart from that they are looking at Africa, Tel Aviv, and Mumbai-Frankfurt as well.

However, there is still time for Air India to operate the Dreamliner on domestic routes. “We haven’t planned to put the Dreamliner on domestic routes. It must only be on high density route. There is one Dreamliner operating on the Delhi-Kolkata route, because of an onward international flight, and the same goes for the Delhi-Kochi-Dubai route,” he explained. Air India evidently would play a huge role in the government’s Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS). However, Lohani said that while it’s still time for operations to start under RCS, as the bids are still on, they will be taking many steps to boost regional connectivity. However, to start so many flights, Air India is aggressively hiring pilots. “We would need pilots as we expand. In 2017, we will have around 20 ATR-72 aircraft, and we would require 200 pilots for regional connectivity. For A320, around 160 pilots are in training and 160 more are starting to join and undergo training. We have two simulators for A320 in Hyderabad and one each for 787, 777 and 737 in Mumbai for pilot training. For ATR-72, we are putting up a simulator facility in Delhi,” informed Lohani.

Much was being said about Air India’s OTP, in line with a FlightStats report which allegedly questioned Air India’s performance and later released a statement clarifying the same. Reacting to the controversy, Lohani said, “We also wrote to FlightStats on the validity of the report. However, I believe that Air India cannot be ranked in terms of its OTP as the complexity of our operations is very different from the operations of any other airline in India. One should understand that we have nine types of planes, while others have only two or three types of aircraft. We operate on Tier II, Tier I, as well as international routes, connecting a total of 100 places. Our domestic passengers come from different cities and then further fly international. We have to do corrections to adjust the feed. If somebody is only operating city shuttle between MumbaiDelhi and is connecting only 25 places, there cannot be any comparison.” On OTP, he said, “Our OTP has improved, apart from dropping in the winters, which every airline faced in India. However, there are 70 other parameters to gauge the performance of an airline other than OTP—like yield, occupancy, food quality, service, website, etc. Everything has to do with the working of an airline, and we are trying to improve that. However, we have expanded and are getting positive feedback as well.”

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