With CEO Campbell Wilson in the cockpit, Air India is moving ahead with ramping up of long-haul international flights.
In early 2020, the then state-owned carrier was forced to ground several widebody aircraft due to the curtailment of international operations following the Covid-19 pandemic and other reasons.
Since its acquisition by the salt-to-software conglomerate Tata Group in January this year, the national flag carrier has been working closely with the US aircraft manufacturer Boeing to restore aircraft that were earlier mothballed.
In a first step, Air India has announced the increase in flights on Delhi and Vancouver sectors from thrice weekly to daily from August 31. This has been made possible by the return of five widebody aircraft to the airline’s fleet in three-class configuration of first, business and economy.
“This increase in our frequency between Delhi and Vancouver is very welcome for many reasons. It is another sign of recovery from the pandemic and caters to strong customer demand,” said Wilson in a statement, adding, “More importantly, it marks the first step in restoring Air India’s fleet and international network.”
The enhancement in number of flights will cater to the growing traffic between India and Canada. These flights will be operated by Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
“This achievement is an important transformational milestone, with aircraft returning to the Air India fleet in a fit to fly condition,” an airline official told Business Today.
Moreover, the operationalisation of these aircraft will allow Air India to enhanced schedule resilience, allowing it to increase both flights and destinations on international routes in the coming months.
A long flight path to recovery
The airline’s widebody fleet currently stands at 43 aircraft, of which 33 are operational. This is a significant improvement from the 28 aircraft that the airline was operating till recently. The remaining aircraft will be progressively returning to service by early 2023.
However, these are but early days and the once iconic airline has a long flight path ahead of it before it is back in the reckoning.
“There are multiple challenges before Air India. For instance, a network carrier is about vistaar (expanse) and a low-cost carrier is about vipina (density). Given the size and type of aircraft currently in its fleet, it manages to cover only about 50 airports. The rest can’t take an Airbus or Boeing flights,” opined an aviation analyst requesting anonymity.
“Therefore, Air India will need Alliance Air that operates with a fleet of ATRs and Dorniers. It will also need to put in place robust engineering support. With so many pieces involved, its turnaround will be a five-year project. But if all goes well, by 2025 brand, Air India can be a formidable force in aviation,” the person added.
Meanwhile, international traffic from India has been witnessing an incremental growth ever since the government lifted the embargo on international flights on March 27. Passenger volumes may reach 96-97 per cent of the pre-Covid levels at 329-332 million in the current fiscal, with June traffic already at 79 per cent of the levels, ratings agency ICRA has estimated.
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