Air India will soon resume direct services to some East African nations to grab a share of the steadily growing traffic between India and Africa on account of increasing trade, services and medical tourism.
At present, no Indian passenger carrier flies to Africa, which is fast emerging also as a resource hub for Indian companies.
"There are plans to start services to Africa soon," Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told IANS. "There is a huge potential in the sector due to growing traffic between India and some of the African countries on account of trade and business developments as well as education and medical tourism."
Air India will compete for passenger traffic with Middle East-based airlines like Dubai's Emirates Airlines, Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, which till now are the only reliable air link between India and Africa.
Top airline sources said plans were afoot to restart services to Kenya.
"We are looking at operating Nairobi flights. The plans are being worked out. We used to operate the services nearly a decade ago from Mumbai. The new flights may be operated from New Delhi as well," a senior official of the national carrier told IANS.
The airline hopes to attract passengers like general tourists, medical tourists, business professionals, transit passengers to other countries, students and government delegations.
Airline officials said the new routes will help India's trade with Africa as Indian companies seeks to gain access to the continent's emerging markets.
Nairobi currently hosts several Indian companies like Tata, Essar, Reliance Industries and Airtel. The city can also act as a continental hub for Air India's passengers as it has several onward connecting flights to other African cities.
Africa has in recent years emerged as one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world after the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), as there has been an exponential increase in tourist inflows, business travellers and foreign investments into the continent.
European and Middle East-based airlines have begun seeing the continent's potential for passenger traffic and feeding their home hubs. Even US-based passenger carriers are also increasing their presence in the African markets.
Buoyed by the increase in traffic, some African airlines such as Kenya Airways, South African Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines are looking at expanding their operations into India. Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, for example, are considering starting services to and from Chennai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.