Canada gets closer with non-stop flights from Delhi

Air Canada will be flying once again to New Delhi, with 4 flights weekly later this year in November. This time, with a non-stop which has become the preferred way to fly. A happy announcement that will open greater business opportunities between the two countries, coinciding with PM Modi’s visit to Canada, this month. Imagine this was a first in 43 years, that an Indian PM visited Canada, a country that is home to one of the most significant and most prosperous Indian communities in the world! The senior team from Air Canada was recently in the city, as TourismFirst caught up with Duncan Bureau, the airlines’s vice president-global sales. He exuded confidence in the Indian market, and was sure this was homecoming for good. This time, they expect the market to grow and services to be added on, as business shows northward growth. Following are the excerpts:

So you telling me your new flights later this November will be a game changer – the state of the art 787-900s?

Yes I think we are extremely proud of the fleet renewal process we are going through. We have ordered up to 50 of the 787s. We are starting the India service with the 787-900s; so it’s our newest equipment and the most advanced we will be operating in this market.

This would be a 2 class or 3 class configuration?

This is 3 class, it is economy, premium economy and business class. So 297 seats in total, 21 in business class, 29 in premium economy and 247 in economy. It really is a beautiful plane and from a hard asset perspective, it is a great product. Our Indian guests and all guests will truly enjoy the experience and its non-stop service. It is by far one of the best products into North America, so not only do you arrive at 5:30 in the morning which allows you to hit every single connection we have in our network, both trans-border into the US, the Caribbean, Cuba and then all across Canada as well.

Canada-gets-closer-with-non-stop-flights-from-Delhi2-214x300How did Air Canada look at India at this point of time? What prompted you to come back again? Because I had thought that with the Star Alliance parameters in place we may or may not even see Air Canada. I am delighted to have you back, but I want to understand what went into the thinking of it.

A big part of it was the availability of the aircraft and so our first delivery of the 787-900 which is the right aircraft for this market from an economic perspective and capacity perspective wasn’t available till November 2016. So we only started taking delivery of the 787s from 2014. So today we have 9 of those in our network and we are growing to potentially 50. We will launch both Dubai and Delhi with the 787.

In terms of why we came back to the market, it really was about the right airline in the right market. Historically, we didnt have the right aircraft for this market and so this really is a game changer for us in terms of the economics, the capability of the aircraft, the class configuration which we think will really help us with the overall mix which will be onboard which will allow us to profit. The Star Alliance is obviously a big part of the capability that we didnt have, 10 years ago in terms of the total network, the JV that we now have with Lufthansa on the Trans-Atlantic. So those are all important ingredients into why we decided that now is the right time for us to come back into India. Even in terms of the economic relationship between India and Canada, a great example of that is PM Modi will be in Canada very shortly and we are very eagerly awaiting his visit and the close ties that it will foster. This goes back to the relationship, we obviously had 1.2 million Indian nationals living in Canada so there is tremendous amount of VFR traffic going back and forth. And quite frankly there is a large amount of traffic going back and forth relative to EPOs and technology solutions.

To add to the expanding Indian community in Canada, the Counsellor General yesterday in Bangalore actually said that we encourage not just more visitors but also more Indians to immigrate. And he mentioned how welcome they would be. So I can only see the market getting bigger and bigger.

Apart from our PM going to Canada, is there a perception of India changing really on the ground in Canada that gives you a reason to come back. Is India getting more eyeballs in the Canadian mind? 

Absolutely, if you think about the size of the Indian national community in Canada, it is growing significantly and economically it is doing well. If you think of our growth, we grew 20% in terms of traffic between India and Canada last year. So we really believe that with a direct service we can increase those numbers. The Canadian Tourism Commission has invested heavily in India and continues to invest in India. Obviously the economic relationship between the two countries in terms of trade has also grown. Not only business department but also tourism, Canadians are fascinated  by India, by the history and culture.

You are starting off with 4 times weekly?

Yes. Our intent is that we want to get it to daily. Part of that is aircraft availability and part of that is we want to make sure there is enough demand. We feel strongly that it will happen very quickly.

Just even distinctly on the radar, would you have another point?

Yes, Mumbai is a market that we are very interested in. And again it’s going to come back to how well the service is received and how the demand it generates. We have up to 50 of these 787s coming into the market and we need to find homes for them and India is a very attractive market for us. So when you look at the capability of the airplane, the demand, the size of the traffic we feel confident.

You ought to become the most natural choice between India and Canada?

Yes, but having said that, we are not arrogant about it and there is plenty of choice.

Are there any plans to provide some kind of an ‘Indianness’ to the flight or to what extent would there be an Indian content?

We used to do the flights to India when we had the flights. We have announcements in Punjabi, even the meals will be such. The whole product will be tailor made for the Indian route. Even the entertainment would have options from Bollywood.

Even on our London flights, because of the amount of connecting traffic we get over London, will have at least one Indian speaker and will always have an Asian vegetarian option.

Is there a kind of profile you have of Indians seeking to migrate to Canada?

The new trend that we have been observing for the last three years is that Canadian education has become very prominent. In the sense that there is huge amount of student traffic and it is growing at 20-25% every year. The opportunity apart from good education is that they get the leverage of a work permit to work there after they finish their under graduation studies. And many of these people who start working in Canada, they get absorbed in permanent jobs.

But in terms of migration directly is there a profile available?

I think its mix of education, engineering, oil and gas. It is the key sectors that we have a specialization in. The film co-production treaty that has been signed between the two countries which we hope will see more and more of film units going to Canada. The nuclear co-operation treaty has already been signed and more importantly the SEPA is in the final stage of signing. So I think after the PM visit, the whole process will get accelerated. So the comprehensive economic partnership agreement, which is SEPA once that takes place is going to open flood gates in terms of trade and investment in both directions.

From here, there is a certain feel good factor about Canadians in the last couple of years. This was probably not a move from any negative situation but it was really a lack of awareness. That awareness is building and now more and more people want to visit Canada. It is also thanks to the Canadian Indian community coming back with a positive feedback that we are happy in Canada.

Canada is one of those countries that has true multi cultures and when you look at the amount of languages that are spoken or the diversity of the religious practises that happen in the country, you will appreciate the tolerance for any religion and tolerance for anyone from any part of the world. We are continuously looking to grow the expertise, when you look at the educated population that comes out of India, the doctors, the engineers all are the types of skills that we need in Canada.

Is there any particular kind of traffic that you will be looking at?

We are looking for premium traffic, the business traveller and we are looking to service North America. It is not only about India to Canada but also India to North America. We have a tremendous transit process in Toronto, one very unique in terms of the world, when you arrive in Canada and you are transiting to the US you actually arrive and clear US customs in Canada. So when you arrive in the US, you are going to domestic arrivals and walking out. It is a great experience.

Also in the last couple of months, we have also had the national carrier Air India also join the Star Alliance. So is there any kind of co-operation or agreements with India?

Yes, we have a code share agreement with Air India for our network and we will continue to grow that relationship as we sort of mature our product here and they mature their product in North America.

What’s happening to a subject as important as safety and security (the accident on German Wings was a recent episode and in the news)?

We announced our new cockpit policy in view of the recent incident. There is no airline in the world that can protect against every possible scenario. The Germanwings incidents is an incredibly sad incident. We as an industry have spent a lot of time and money to be able to lock people out of the cockpit and I don’t know if anyone had ever contemplated a scenario when we would have to worry about who was in the cockpit. As an industry we are very concerned about making sure that our guests are well looked after.

How significantly are you selling on the net? Indians are buying travel online like never before!

I think all airlines have experienced a massive amount of growth in terms of transactions on the internet. I think for simple PNRs, many consumers will go online and self-serve and if it is a complicated PNR and there are Visas involved or multiple destinations, then the travel agent has a tremendous amount of value to the consumer. So we certainly have invested in our website and will continue to invest in different modes of distribution. The fact is that we need as much product on as many shelves as possible. We are growing at 20% compound annual growth between now and 2020. We have created an environment where anyone can transact with us in any way they chose to.

How much of your traffic do you see will only be end to end and how much will be going beyond to other destinations?

I wish I knew the answer. I think overall our network has a lot of connection. I would guess maybe 30% would be connecting onward into the US. The main traffic would be Toronto-Delhi, and then we will see a lot of traffic moving on to other cities of Canada. We would say, yes there would be a large component of trade servicing guests from point of sale in India and Canada both. Again, this is a complicated PNR and consumers will go to a trusted travel advisor unless they have done this route several times and are comfortable going online and making that booking.

How has been your experience with Star Alliance?

We are the founding members of Star Alliance and we are stronger as Star Alliance than we are on our own. When you look at the JV we have with Lufthansa and United on trans Atlantic, it has been incredibly successful. But without the support of the United code in the US, it would be a tough call in any small city in the US where most of the customers or the trade would have no idea of Air Canada and this is true for Germany as well. So we are heavily dependent on our Star partners code to help us increase our awareness and point of sale. Overall, we give a better product for our customer, given our alliance across the globe.

By Navin Berry

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