Air India sees its summer growth opportunities in the stars

Air India has confirmed its intention to launch two new long-haul flights into Europe and North America by leveraging on the hub activities of two of its fellow Star Alliance partners. The airline says it will introduce flights from Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi to Copenhagen and Washington during the summer 2017 season, partnering with SAS Scandinavian Airlines and United Airlines in the two new markets, respectively.

Details of the plans of Air India were revealed on its official Twitter social media platform on January 16, 2017 as it outlined details of all of its planned summer 2017 schedule changes. These also included new flights linking Kolkata and Chandigarh with Bangkok from May 2017 with as well as increase in frequencies of existing flights from Delhi to Ahmedabad, Bangkok, Leh, Nagpur and Port Blair.

The new four times weekly Delhi – Copenhagen route will commence from May 2017, according to Air India, and will be flown using a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The Delhi – Washington flight will operate on a three times weekly basis and will be flown using a Boeing 777 from July 2017. These will be the only non-stop operation on the two routes and brings the return of Delhi – Copenhagen flights after almost nine years with SAS having last served the route with three times weekly flights during the winter 2008/2009 season.

The airline’s latest expansion is logical and fits with a Star Alliance goal to add further connectivity between the largest markets across its membership’s networks. Alongside supporting local traffic flows Air India will be able to take advantage of feed at both end of the routes to further boost traffic levels.

Washington will become the fifth US market Air India will serve non-stop from India with Chicago, New York and San Francisco served from Delhi and Newark from Mumbai. The airline also serves Newark indirectly from Ahmedabad via London Heathrow. Air India previously served Dulles International Airport for a six month period between December 2009 and May 2010 as a tag on its flights into New York.

In the last year, an estimated 310,000 O&D passengers flew between India and Washington, around 410 passengers per day each way (PPDEW), with traffic in and out of Delhi accounting for just over a quarter (26.7 per cent) of this bi-directional demand. Air India currently has only a tiny share of the India - Washington market (0.4 per cent) with the Gulf hub carriers dominating flows - Emirates Airline (25.9 per cent), Qatar Airways (22.9 per cent) and Etihad Airways (18.2 per cent).

The Gulf hub carriers are successfully backfilling their US flights with passengers from the Indian sub-continent, but Air India’s non-stop offering is proving popular and convenient with many customers. It first introduced the ultra-long-range Boeing 777-200LR into its fleet in July 2007 enabling it to launch Mumbai – New York in August 2007 and Delhi – New York in February 2008. The Mumbai – New York flight was switched to Newark in October 2010 when Delhi – Chicago was also launched, and flights from Delhi to San Francisco followed in December 2015.

Air India’s share of the O&D traffic between India and the United States has halved over the past ten years, according to the AirVision Market Intelligence tool from Sabre Airline Solutions. Having grown to a market share high of 24.2 per cent in 2005, it has subsequently seen its share fall to just 11.0 per cent in 2015, having been overtaken by Emirates Airline as the largest operator in this market in 2011. Preliminary data for 2016 shows this growing slightly to 11.5 per cent as traffic levels grow to their highest level since the first year of the decade.

In the last year, an estimated 35,000 O&D passengers flew between Delhi and Copenhagen, around 47 passengers per day each way (PPDEW). Finnair currently holds the largest share of this market (19.3 per cent) ahead of Qatar Airways (18.9 per cent) and Emirates Airline (14.90 per cent). Over this period, Copenhagen was the fourth largest unserved western European O&D market from Delhi after Barcelona, Manchester and Venice.

While Air India is the largest provider of non-stop scheduled flights between India and Europe with a 19.7 per cent share of capacity, like in the US, it is Emirates Airline that is the largest single carrier of passengers in this market with its indirect services via its Dubai International Airport hub. MIDT data shows a market of around 7.25 million annual passengers, just under 10,000 PPDEW.

In the last year (12 months until November 2016), Emirates held a 19.3 per cent share of this O&D demand, ahead of Air India’s 13.2 per cent. The ‘Jetihad’ business relationship between India’s Jet Airways and UAE’s Etihad Airways is the largest presence in the market with 11.2 per cent and 9.9 per cent respective shares delivering a 21.1 per cent overall share.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…