Air India chief Ashwani Lohani shared Air-India’s vision of enhancing air-connectivity between the two countries. With the launch of new civil aviation policy, focus on regional connectivity and development of new aviation hubs in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, he believes that the aviation sector in the country was poised for the next leap forward, benefitting travel and tourism emanating from the US shores.
“I remember my days in the Ministry of Tourism, in the early 1990’s, when we were struggling to touch a million mark in inbound,” recounted Air India CMD. Reminiscing India’s bleak performance in attracting inbound tourism, he blamed constraints faced by the aviation industry in servicing larger numbers for the poor show. Agreeing that India’s bigger constraint was limited air seat capacity, he said “Our airports were small and ineffective in handling large passenger volumes. They were simply not of global-standards. That began to change as our airport infrastructure started to improve. Through the years, we came up with modern airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru,” he said, sharing how things began to look up for the industry.
Crediting major advances in airport infrastructure in achieving much larger volumes of tourists, he pointed out that India’s outbound stood at 17 million and inbound figures had recently crossed the eight million barrier. Noting that there had been a substantial increment in air-travel between India and the rest of the world, he argued that air-travel had increased in great numbers. He, however, did admit that India needed more such big airports and, definitely, more flights.
He iterated that the government and Air India was looking at this with very serious intent. “The recently unveiled civil aviation policy by the government is a step in that direction. It talks about regional-connectivity to tier-2 and tier-3 cities, and open skies policy that envisages opening up of the world. There are several more airports in the pipeline in growing cities of India,” he elaborated.
Highlighting Air India’s recent expansion bid to cover more destinations, he said that we at Air India believed in expansion. Ashwani Lohani observed that Air India was evaluating its growth markets very carefully. “We do know the importance of flying to the USA from India – which are two of the biggest democracies in the world. We had three flights connecting the USA until December last year. We added another flight with introducing a direct connection to San Francisco; it was a long-pending demand,” he detailed.
Informing that Air India was going to connect Ahmedabad to Newark via London to improve international connectivity from various cities across India, the CMD said, “It will give freedom of travel to people of the region coming 15th of August this year.”
In the coming months, high on agenda for the national carrier was to establish direct air-connectivity between two capitals, he shared. A Long mooted idea, shelved owing to shortage of wide-bodied aircrafts, is likely to get a head-start in coming months. “We wish to connect the two capitals. The idea has not yet been implemented, and has been deferred, owing to shortage of aircrafts. It will, in all likelihood, commence from April-May, 2017 –which will make it the fifth connection between the two countries, serviced by Air India,” announced the CMD.
Sharing the overview of bilateral tourism exchange between India and the USA, Air India chief mentioned that traffic from India to the USA numbered around 9 lakhs while 11 lakh Americans came to India. He revealed that as much as 8.5 lakh seats were serviced by Air India, a lion’s share indeed, with a load-factor that ranged in high eighties. He hoped to push these numbers upwards of eleven lakh by the end of 2017.
The big domestic push on boosting domestic air-network, key for expanding air-connectivity to the distant corners of the nation, will get a shot in the arm, as Air-India plans adding one aircraft each month in its fleet from August onwards. “We aspire to push for newer destinations, and will launch a new service with Air-Alliance. From August onwards, we will add one new aircraft each month,” Ashwani Lohani informed. In an ambitious attempt, Air India plans to double the number of wide-bodied aircrafts from 133 to 266 in the coming four years.
Development of regional hubs, critical for augmenting movement into different regions of India is likely to get a push, too. Ashwani Lohani assured that the national carrier wished to focus its energies on this crucial aspect. “An important agenda for us would be development of new airport hubs. Hyderabad and Bhopal are on the radar for the same,” he said.
In his concluding remarks, he stressed that Air India was keen on expanding its outreach to the USA, and Indo-US connection was a top agenda for Air India.