Pankaj Srivastava is all set to retire from his services at Air India towards the end of April. Being a part of the successful launch of the much-coveted flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv, he shares how the project finally came to fruition, the plans ahead for Air India and why domestic tourism is important for the economy.
Air India recently flagged off its inaugural flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv, and Pankaj Srivastava, Commercial Director and Member of the Board of Air India, can’t keep the excitement after its success. Sharing how it started, he said, “We started working on the Tel Aviv flight about a year back. After visiting Tel Aviv to make the first round of market survey, we found this market to be very promising. It took a lot of time for us to put the flight in the system because there were issues regarding the route to be taken. However, finally having settled that, we commenced the operations from March 22, 2018 and just gave about 15 days’ time for the flight to build up. I am happy to say that with the first few flights, the incoming loads were very encouraging and forward bookings are looking robust. This market definitely has a lot of appetite.”
Talking about future international operations, he revealed, “We are also increasing our frequencies into San Francisco from six flights a week to nine per week. We will now have a daily flight and two flights a day twice in a week. We are also increasing frequencies to Sydney and Melbourne. Earlier it was four flights to Sydney and three to Melbourne, and now we are extending five each to both the destinations, taking the frequency count to 10 flights a week to Australia. On the other side, we have added one more flight to Singapore from Delhi and have also started services to Bangkok from both Chandigarh and Bhubaneswar.”
“We are increasing our frequencies to San Francisco from six flights a week to currently doing nine per week. We will now have a daily flight and two flights a day twice in a week”
While disinvestment of the airline is on the cards, Srivastava informed that they are looking at expansion. “Expansion is the way forward for us. We are evaluating some more markets in US, like Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Boston. As and when we have resources, we would definitely like to connect more cities between India and US. We have by and large covered the entire continent of Europe, either with a direct flight or with our connecting partners. The scope to expand more in the country is not much, but we are still eyeing at markets in UK. We already have daily flights to Birmingham and recently commenced two non-stop flights from Amritsar to Birmingham. We will add capacities in that sector and are now looking at markets like Manchester,” he shared. In terms of new aircraft, he revealed that they have leased about 29 Airbus 320 neos of which many have come, and another four or five will be coming in a couple of months.
However, Srivastava seemed bullish on domestic travel, saying, “We are very much into the new regional connectivity scheme of Government of India, which is UDAN, and our subsidiary company Alliance Air has picked up some fantastic destinations under this policy. This would give huge impetus to tourism. On the domestic front, we have connected Hubli with Mumbai and Bengaluru. The flights are going well. We have connected Amritsar with a non-stop flight to Nanded, and there is a demand to add more flights. We also added a flight from Hyderabad and Mumbai to Nashik,” he said. He further added that they are deploying every narrow body aircraft possible in the domestic sector to sustain competition. “On an average we fly 14 hours per aircraft per day, and I think we can take it to 15 hours,” he concluded.