Air India to fly more, fill more to turn around

Bengaluru, Oct 3 (IANS) National carrier Air India (AI) would fly more and fill more seats to turn around its fortunes by adding more aircraft and destinations on domestic and overseas routes, AI Chairman Ashwani Lohani said on Monday.

“We are adding more aircraft to connect more cities across the country and overseas to increase our capacity, frequency of service and turn around the airline’s fortunes soon,” Lohani told reporters at a company function here.

Admitting that the state-run airline’s market share had declined, especially on the domestic routes, Lohani said in a dynamic business and competitive environment, it’s the market forces that determined the growth and share of airlines.

“Civil aviation is a dynamic business. I would say it is the mother of all businesses. It’s highly competitive. Market forces decide the fares. Our strategy is to improve the service, punctuality, on-time performance and boost the morale of our employees to give their best to restore the airline’s lost glory,” said Lohani.

On the international routes, the airline is looking at adding more destinations in Europe, the US, Australia and South East Asia with non-stop and one-stop services for providing better and faster connectivity.

“We have launched four non-stop direct flights on overseas routes during this year, including one to San Francisco in the US, Vienna in Austria, Rome in Italy and Birmingham in Britain. We plan to add 10 more destinations in 2017,” Lohani said.

The airline will start a non-stop service to Madrid in Spain from Delhi in December.

“We are already operating non-stop flights to nine destinations in Europe, four cities across the US and two in Australia. With the addition of more aircraft, we will fly to more destinations non-stop or with one-stop over,” said Lohani.

Air India commercial director Pankaj Srivastava said on the occasion that the airline would add 10 more aircraft, including seven A-320s of Airbus and three of 777-300ER (extended range) and six more 787 Dreamliners of Boeing.

“Though we cover 68 cities with 55 aircraft on the domestic routes, capacity constraints have limited our ability to expand to more tier-two and tier-three cities unlike competitors who fly to 38 cities even with 100 aircraft,” Srivastava said.

Noting that the passenger traffic was growing at about 20 per cent annually in the domestic market, Lohani said travel had become more competitive as evident from lower yields with flexi fares and better connectivity to tier-two and tier-three cities by competitors.

“Once we have more aircraft and expand capacity, we will regain our market share with services on trunk routes and tier-one cities,” added Srivastava.

Claiming that he has free hand and enough autonomy to run the airline and turn around its fortunes by consolidating and expanding, Lohani said there was no interference from the government or the ministry in the airline’s affairs.

“Though many had left the airline over the years for various reasons, the attrition has gone down drastically since a year as we are taking care of our staff. There is a sea change in the staff morale. You can assess the mood here,” added Lohani.

Earlier, Lohani unveiled the airline’s new booking office at a heritage building in the city centre as part of the company’s revival strategy.

“Bengaluru is the fifth biggest stations in the airline’s extensive domestic network and well connected to other cities across the country and overseas,” the company said in a statement later.