Rajiv Bansal. Image Source: IANS News

Copenhagen, Sep 19 : Flag carrier Air India is evaluating prospects of operating new international services to expand its network while employing an aggressive strategy to focus on the international segment with non-stop flights, says its Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal.

"We will be getting the last of our 787s by October-end or November beginning. So we will have capacity to deploy to destinations with flying time of 7-9 hours," Bansal told IANS in an interview here.

The new AI CMD disclosed that "commercial evaluation" was going on to start at least two new flights by the end of the current fiscal.

"We are evaluating the prospects to start non-stop services to two new destinations but the decision will depend upon the feasibility and profitability of operating these routes," he said.

AI is looking at diverse sectors to start new flight operations like to Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston, Nairobi or from Guwahati to Bangkok or Guwahati to Kunming (China).

In August 2017, it commenced operations from pilgrimage destination Varanasi to Colombo and New Delhi to Stockholm. In July, it had started a connection between New Delhi and Washington.

Last year, the airline added four international destinations - San Francisco, Vienna, and Madrid (all from Delhi) and to London from Ahmedabad.

Besides its evaluation on adding new destinations, the airline might just enhance its flight frequencies to Australia.

"We can even go in for expansion of service frequencies or start new routes," Bansal said.

At present, Air India has a network of more than 40 destinations across the US, Europe, Australia, Far East and South East Asia, and the Gulf region. It gets over 65 per cent of its revenue from overseas operations and has deployed most of its assets on foreign routes.

Another key element in AI's expansion strategy is to focus on non-stop medium to long-haul flight operations.

In aviation parlance, a non-stop flight operates point-to-point and is popular among passengers traveling on long-haul routes. In contrast, a direct flight stops at least once between two destinations for either refuelling or disembarking of some on-board passengers.

In addition to the airline's international expansion strategy, it is planning to consolidate some of its domestic sector routes within the group.

The excise for streamlining overlapping operations, along with optimisation of the group's massive assets base like aircraft and airports time slots has begun, Bansal said.

"I have already conducted few meetings on this... The airline's wide network is my strength and its necessary to fully utilise it," he said.

"None of the group companies should compete with each other on sectors they currently operate and in this regard we plans to have some more meetings and then start rationalising routes in the winter schedule."
Bansal pointed out that under the plans being formulated -- few short haul operations of AI will be given to Alliance Air and some international flight services from South India to Air India Express.

Presently, Alliance Air operates slower turbo-prop aircraft under regional connectivity scheme and as feeder service for AI's hubs.

Air India Express on the other hand operates international low cost flight services. Majority of its operations are focused on the travel demand generated in South India for the Gulf region.

Currently, AI group operates to over 70 domestic stations.

(Rohit Vaid is in Copenhagen at the invitation of Air India. He can be contacted at rohit.v@ians.in)

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