Air India has reason to celebrate. As 2013 was coming to an end, the Star Alliance voted unanimously for Air India’s entry into this elite group. If all goes well, the airline should officially be a part of the Alliance by mid-2014, stated John Massey, Manager, Marketing Programs and Industry Affairs for Air India.
The Alliance granted approval to the state-owned carrier after its membership application had been on hold for over two years. Once the national carrier becomes a member of Star Alliance, Air India passengers will enjoy enormous benefits both on the ground and in the air, announced Rohit Nandan, Air India Chairman and Managing Director.
As part of the group, Air India passengers will experience seamless transfers between carriers across the world, more frequent-flyer mileage points, code sharing (which will enable them to choose a wider range of flights), and access to facilities at over a thousand airport lounges worldwide.
According to Christian Klick, Vice President Corporate office of Star Alliance, India has always been an important market for Star Alliance. “While our members do serve some Indian destinations, with Air India on board, we will be able to increase our network coverage and also link many of the Indian destinations into our network,” Klick explained.
The Star Alliance network offers 22,000 flights daily in 195 countries. Members of Star Alliance are 28 elite airlines, including Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, South African Airways, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways.
The integration process, which is likely to take three months, involves merging the airline’s flight network and ticket booking systems with the Alliance’s, as well as matching frequent flyer programs and access to lounges. The Star Alliance decision comes at a time Air India has shown major successes. It’s been improving its market share, passenger revenue, load factor, and on-time performance. Mirroring this rise in performance in the second quarter of the current fiscal year, passenger revenue was up 22 percent and its market share grew 1.3 points from 18.5 percent to 19.8 percent. The airline’s occupancy factor and on-time performance also increased.
In a bold move Air India ordered 27 Boeing 787 Dreamliners six years ago. To date, 11 long-haul planes have arrived, with 16 more to come. According to Air India Chairman Nandan, the new aircraft will allow the airline to operate on new routes and enable it to save fuel costs. The Dreamliner has the range and capability to fly routes to the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Australia. It’s the aircraft of choice for flights from India to London, Paris, Frankfurt, Japan and in 2014, to Milan and Rome.
Air India will be the fifth global airline to receive the fuel-efficient and eco-friendly aircraft. The Dreamliner consumes 20 percent less fuel than similar aircraft, using advanced technology to reduce noise and emission during take off, cruising and landing. The plane can fly ten thousand miles nonstop. As part of the national carrier’s turnaround plan, it sold off five of its fuel-guzzling wide-body Boeing 777s to Etihad Airways last year.
It was a busy summer for Air India. The airline started nonstop service between Birmingham, England and Delhi/Amritsar with Dreamliners flying four days a week . In June the airline introduced Dreamliner service to London. Air India now operates 21 flights to London per week, 7 from Mumbai and 14 from Delhi. The national carrier also started nonstop service to Sydney and Melbourne from Delhi on the Dreamliner.
We’ve made tremendous strides in promoting tours because of our nonstop flights,” Mr. Riwo Norbhu, General Manager—Americas, Air India, explained. “We have a loyal customer base. We’re not a large airline, more a specialty airline, providing a service in our primary markets.” Today, business and first-class passengers are filling the front of the aircraft as the middle and upper class in India prosper. India ranks sixth on the list of countries with the largest billionaire class.
India is where the U.S. market was fifteen years ago,” added John Massey. “They are tired of the London-Paris-Rome destinations. As new markets open up, Indians are going.”
More ambitious plans are on the drawing board. A new Dreamliner route to Moscow will start in mid-2014. Regional expansion will continue. The Delhi hub will fly to Sri Lanka and beyond to Vietnam and Myanmar. The airline is working on a co-share with South African Airlines with thoughts of returning to Africa, a former destination.
“We’re very optimistic and see growth opportunity,” Mr. Norbhu said. “We’ll move into the next phase of expansion, and then will be expanding in the U.S. Maybe we’ll bring back the JFK-Bombay flight,” Norbhu mused. For now, there are nonstop flights on the 777-300’s from JFK and Chicago to Delhi. A one-stop flight departs Newark daily. “Our departures are good times,” explained Norbhu. “There are late evening departures with early morning arrivals in time to go to work. You get in to India at a decent hour and it’s the same on the way back.”
It all began with a young, adventurous French-born Indian aviator, J.R.D. Tata. He was issued India’s first pilot license in 1929 and the rest is history. Tata founded Air India in 1932 under the aegis of Tata Airlines (a division of the present day Tata Group). Following World War II, regular commercial service was restored in India and Tata Airlines became a public company under the name of Air India. In 1953, the Government nationalized the air transportation industry and Air India International Limited was born. In 1960, Air India flew its first international flight to New York via London. Two years later, Air India became the world’s first all-jet airline and its name was officially shortened to Air India.
In 2007, Air India and Indian Airlines merged into one airline, with its name remaining Air India, the flag carrier airline of India. It is owned by the government-run Air India Limited. The airline has the largest fleet in India with 132 Airbus and Boeing aircraft serving domestic and international airports. It is headquartered in New Delhi, with its two domestic hubs at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. A new international hub is being planned at the Dubai International Airport.
Air India is open to FAMs through tour operators. Agents get 4% commission, more with increased volume.
Air India: 212-4071300; 1-800-223-7776