Air Canada has made abundantly clear that India remains a key market for the Canadian flagship carrier as it recently announced a nonstop connection between Delhi-Vancouver besides ramping up the already existing Delhi-Toronto frequency to seven days a week. It also indicates that the Canadian carrier has assessed increased growth and requirements at the back of a fast-growing bilateral movement.
While the Indian diaspora stamps a significance presence on the global platform, but nowhere else does it wield the degree of clout on the socio-economic and political landscape of a nation as it does in Canada. The Indian diaspora currently accounts for almost 4% of the total population and is one of the most well-off and fastest growing non-European ethnic communities in the country. A glimpse of this growing prowess was abundantly visible, when as many as 19 Indian-origin MPs found their way into the current parliament – with Harjit Sajjan, an Indian born Canadian, taking charge of the Defence portfolio.
This robust presence of the Indian community, through the years, has resulted in a sustained bilateral movement of people and services, especially inbound. In what may come as a major booster shot in further cementing this movement, Air Canada has recently unveiled its new and a potentially gamechanger connection between the two countries. This comes at a time when the airline has decided to increase the frequency of Delhi-Toronto flight from four times a week to a daily, starting the first week of November. It also has plans to introduce a Mumbai-Toronto nonstop from 1st of July 2017.
With a flying time of 14 hours and 10 minutes, the newly added connection linking Delhi to Canada’s densest and most ethnically diverse west coast city – Vancouver – is likely to have a significant impact in augmenting traffic to the entire North American region.
Speaking with TF, Kevin Howlett, Senior Vice President, Regional Markets & Government Relations, Air Canada asserted that the carrier was “truly on a renewal program and India was an important part of their global outreach.” “We, like other carriers in North America, were not without challenges, but did a significant financial restructuring which commenced in 2009. The whole initiatives had a couple of key attributes to it,” he recalled.
He shared that cleaning up the balance sheet, changing the employee culture, coupled with embarking on a global expansion strategy through fleet renewal and expansion of network were central to the restructuring bid. “Over the course of the last couple of years, we have basically renewed our wide-bodied fleet with the acquisition of 777s and 787-800s and 787-900 aircrafts. On the latter, 787-800s and 787-900 aircrafts, we will have about 37 of those by the end of the program – and that aircraft has, really, been a gamechanger for us, allowing us to enter markets that we could not access, and do so on a profitable basis,” he said. “It has certainly enabled us to basically enter this market in a large a measure as we can,” added Kevin Howlett.
The India strategy
Air Canada chose to implement a well though-out strategy which aimed at offering quality product at various price-points, helping them engage with a gamut of market segments – and to Kevin Howlett’s own admission, the strategy has been yielding them rich dividends. “It has allowed us to offer three price-points, as I would call it. There is cabin service with economy, premium economy and business class. We have the best international business class product and 787s have stepped up the game, stepped up the whole standard level,” he substantiated.
Stressing that an exciting time lied ahead for the Canadian flagship carrier, he said “we have high hopes for the performance of the Vancouver-Delhi route. The level of opportunity that we see, especially from the British Columbia and Vancouver market and here, is immense. The province of British Columbia and the government has underscored that.”
He accentuated that the carrier had “clearly identified India as a growing economic opportunity and one that they wanted to partner with businesses here in India, and Delhi, to make that happen.”
Taking stock of Air Canada’s global footprints, Kevin Howlett informed that the carrier had opened new routes, starting with its first route into Africa – into Casablanca. “Last year, we have also moved our Casablanca service to a daily one. That is on top of Barcelona, Madrid, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest among others that we have operated through our liaison carriers, and through Air Canada. On the Asian side, we have got Osaka and Nagoya, both of which are operated with routes,” he said.
He added that when Air Canada put that with Delhi operations, they were well on their way to becoming a global champion.
On ease of travel and Air Canada’s foray therein
“Just taking our Vancouver-Delhi flight as an example, the way we have timed our service is that when one arrives in Vancouver, it is 6-6.30 in the morning. That allows you to connect with our bank anywhere in Canada and the USA. So, whether you are going to Montreal, Toronto, New York, or Chicago, it is a significant competitive advantage that our timings give us,” explained Kevin Howlett.
He emphasised that there was a lot of excitement around Vancouver-Delhi service among the Indo-Canadian community and the business community at large in the city of Vancouver – who supported this recently added connection.
“The flight time is around 14 hours and 10 minutes, but the real story is that Vancouver and Delhi are now 8 hours closer. It is true when you come to think of it, because prior to this it was over another gateway,” he iterated.