Ashwani Lohani, CMD, Air India is walking a tightrope, striving to strike a fine balance between resolving pending legacy issues that have stifled the national carrier’s growth in the past decade and ushering an unprecedented era of operational profits for the carrier. While the ‘Maharajah’ is keen on ramping up its domestic operations, with the introduction of new flights on tier-2 and tier-3 routes, it is also planning a steady expansion on lucrative international connections. Ashwani Lohani at the 32nd IATO conference in Chennai.
Air India CMD Ashwani Lohani made a candid admission when he readily concurred to the fact that a number of legacy issues had left a huge gap between operating performance and the net performance for the national carrier. Noting that all of it started to go haywire after the merger between Air India and Indian Airlines in 2006, he said, “We inherited a number of bad debts that needs to be sorted out.”
Noting that some of the legacy issues had been sorted out, reflecting in a much improved performance, and an unprecedented profit in the last year, in the history of the national carrier, he said “some of the legacy issues do seem impossible to sort right now, but as we move forward, we hope to address them in a proper manner.”
Reflecting on the symbiotic relationship between civil aviation and tourism, he stressed that both grew hand-in-hand, and neither could flourish in exclusion. “Development of civil aviation infrastructure is key to development of travel and tourism. It is complementary to each other,” said the CMD.
When asked about the expansion plans of the airlines, he shared “I, personally, believe that growth is key to survival. Any organisation that ceases to grow, decays and finally succumbs. We are aware of that and looking at it in a serious manner.” However, he did agree that he would first look at consolidating existing operations before looking at attempting for route and fleet expansion. “Expansion would come after we have consolidated our current position,” he said.
Ramping up international operations is likely to be on the radar for Air India, as the New Delhi- San Francisco direct flight is going to be extended to six flights a week, from currently four flights a week, starting November, he informed.
“Steady expansion on important international routes is also something we are seriously looking at. We have recently kick-started Ahmedabad-London-Newark connection – which was a long-pending demand. The service has been started on the 15th of August and I am happy to share with you that we are flying at full capacity,” shared the CMD. Another important route connecting New Delhi and the Spanish capital – that has gained significant traction in the past few years, thanks to popular Bollywood movies being shot there – is likely to commence in late December or early January. The move is likely to add more traffic to Spain and boost bilateral movement between the two countries.
“Beside these routes, we are also going to start operation on the Chandigarh-Bangkok route,” Air India CMD added. While Air India is already operating a number of connections to key US gateways, it is also examining the feasibility of connecting the two capitals. “We are seriously looking at introducing direct flights to Washington,” he said.
Route expansion aside, the national carrier is also going to add muscle to its fleet by adding over two aircrafts each month from the coming year. This augmentation was aimed at improving connections to tier-2 and tier-3, he said.
Alliance Air to ramp up its fleet by 40 aircrafts by the end of 2018
In what could help India drastically reduce the woes it faces in the realm of regional connectivity, especially into tier-2 and tier-3 cities, along with better air-service into the Northeast, Air India will significantly muscle up its existing Alliance Air fleet in the coming two years.
Boosting regional connectivity, especially into the Northeast, has been one of the key focus areas of the present NDA government. In the same breath, Air India is planning a major addition to its fleet strength by adding over 40 aircrafts in its operations by the end of the next year. Speaking to tour operators at the IATO conference, he asserted that a stronger foray into untapped tier-2 and tier-3 cities was a top priority for Air India. He informed that a steady infusion of aircrafts into the inventory was aimed at bolstering connectivity and increasing frequencies in those regions. “With over 2.5 aircrafts planned to join the fleet each month, starting January in the next year, and increased frequencies of the existing fleet, we will improve regional connectivity,” he said. “We will connect tier-1 to tier-2 and tier-2 to tier-3 cities”, he added.
The government of India has put in place an extremely progressive Civil Aviation policy which would help improve the existing situation, he noted. “I am not a part of the Civil Aviation ministry, but I am quite pragmatic,” said the CMD.
He also highlighted that he had taken note of a long-standing demand of the travel community and increased the quota allowed for baggage on domestic flights to 35 kgs. “This is something that no other domestic carrier has done and the agent community has, in lieu, promised to give first preference to Air India. Only when an Air India connection is not available, they would look at some alternate arrangements,” he informed the gathering.
He added that the national carrier was proving food on flights – the quality of which had substantially improved in the past months – with wider seats and more leg rooms, beside “giving our flyers a sense of national pride of flying with the Air India.”