Air India to focus after its transfer to the Tata group in January has been on improving safety, cleanliness and on-time performance. Now comes the hard part – expansion to international routes and acquisition of new aircraft.
Setting the stage for the turnaround of Air India, Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran laid down a roadmap with four core areas for the new management to focus on – providing “best in class customer service”; making Air India the “most technologically advanced airline in the world”; upgrading aircraft, bringing in new fleet and expanding the airline’s network; and ensuring in-flight and off-flight hospitality is “the best”.
Air India plans to open multiple hubs across India over the coming years to help capture the surging demand in the country’s domestic market and drive an ambitious international expansion strategy under its new owner TATA group.
Air India has the strategy already in place where they have a hub in Delhi for all our long-haul and our short-haul markets. This is expected to grow because going forward, management’s thought and vision are to create several hubs in India, which would facilitate growth in each of the regions.
“We have seen the Indian market being catered to by one-stop product for a long time now. It is time with the new management and the new vision to take back the market to direct offerings so that our customers have options and direct offerings to take them to their destinations.
“North America is an important market for us, and we see in the next few years with our expansion plans, we will be tripling our capacity into North America.”Jinesh Papdiwal, Senior Manager, Tata Sons
According to data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser, Air India is the fifth-largest player in India’s domestic market during June 2022, with a 7.6% capacity share of all departure seats. LCC IndiGo is the largest, commanding 55.4%, followed by Go First on 9.9%, SpiceJet on 9.2% and Vistara on 8.4%.
Expanding its international footprint means acquiring more aircraft. International aircraft manufacturers have started wooing Indian carriers with their latest offerings.
For instance, Airbus recently flew the Airbus A350 Extra Wide Body aircraft to India. The aircraft is capable of flying non-stop between Bengaluru and San Francisco, a route that Air India had been looking for a long time.
An Air India commander said that the A350-900 ULR can fly non-stop between Mumbai and Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Panama City (which if it is launched will be the world’s longest flight) and Delhi-Auckland; it can even connect Thiruvananthapuram with Tel Aviv.
Air India is planning to scale up its fleet by more than 200 planes in the next 5 years. Of this, 70% of the orders would be narrow-bodied planes while 30% would be wide-bodies.
The carrier is said to be considering an order for the European company’s A350 wide-bodied planes. If that happens, it would be its first aircraft order since 2006 by the recently privatised airline. It would also make Air India the first Indian airline to order the A350, which is gaining popularity among global carriers for fuel-efficiency.
Air India already serves 50 domestic destinations but wants to increase the number to 200. Through codeshares and partnerships, the airline also serves 75 international destinations but hopes to grow to more than 125 points.
Air India wants to double its capacity to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central CIS countries, as well as ramp up operations to Australia and markets in Southeast Asia and Far East Asia. Of course, direct flights to the US also remain a high priority for the carrier.