AI plans massive expansion programme

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New Delhi, Feb 12: Public sector carrier Air India (AI) is planning to connect all major US cities by introducing non-stop flights from the Indian metropolis in the next few years.

After the successful launch of direct non-stop flights from Mumbai and Delhi to New York, the Rs 10,000 crore company AI will soon start non-stop flights between Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India and its US counterpart San Francisco, beside launching non-stop flights from Chennai and Kochi to the US. AI Executive Director (Corporate Communication) Jitender Bhargav told a team of mediapersons, who travelled to New York on the inaugural flight, that the Indo-US sector is poised to be the airline's largest revenue earner with enormous potential for growth in the coming years.

AI, that has ordered 15 more Long Range Boeing aircrafts, would commence flights to Washington and Texas (Houston or Dallas) among other cities in the US.''These flights will be operated with an intermediate halt at Munich,'' he said.

AI targets revenue of more than Rs 3,300 crores from the this sector as compared to Rs 2,615.76 crore during the last year.

''This target is set as there has been increase in flights operated by Air India to the US, which has gone to 38 flights per week, though the full impact on revenue would be seen next year,'' Mr Bhargava said.

The growth has been more pronounced in the past five years when the flghts has gone up from 10 to 38 per week.

With the commencement of the daily non-stop Delhi-New York flight, AI now offers 12,536 seats per week on its 38 flights to four destinations in the US-- New York (6,293), Newark (2,394), (Chicago) 2,961) and Los Angels (888).

''While the non-stops flights are being operated with B777-200LRs, which are equipped with all modern passenger amenities like flat beds in First and Executive Class with the state-of-art flight entertaintment system, AI product can be regarded as the finest,'' Mr Bhargava said.

''We want to sent out the message to the travelling public that punctuality, on time performance and comfort onboard are the three major aspects the airline will never compromise.This is the new face of Air India n the coming years with the acquisition of more and more new aircrafts,'' Mr Bhargava said. Mr Saurabh Sen, Co-Chairman of Astonfield Group, who was traveling in the First Class had all praise for Air India for the comfort and performance onboard.

''I have travelled in many world airlines and I can say this is the best one and I prefer to fly with AI.'' Mr Sen, a New York based executive who visits India every month said.

Commander of the Boeing Amitab Singh said he simply liked to fly the latest version which had the most modern equipment and systems.

''It is one of the best aircraft and I am proud of AI for ordering more such planes to add to its fleet,'' he added.

Asked about the response of the two non-stops from Mumbai and Delhi, he said ''When AI started the non-stop flights, we mean business.It is the quality product. We are sure that it will be our premium product and the response would be too encouraging.'' The senior Air India official disclosed that the Airline is planning to lease 10-15 aircraft this year to replace ageing planes and fill the gap caused by the delays in the delivery of Boeing's new Dreamliner.

''We are looking at 10-15 aircraft, if we can get it. We will go for dry lease of brand new aircraft or close to that.

With the merger of Indian (earlier Indian Airlines) with Air India, the new identity has now a fleet of 140 aircraft. It has placed orders for 111 more aircraft with Boeing and Airbus to be delivered up to 2011. Air India had to phase out 14 aircraft, which it had delayed doing due to a shortage of planes.

''We have put out a request to all leasing companies and aircraft manufacturers to let us know how many and what kind of aircraft they can make available to us from 2008-11,'' he added.

He said the availability of aircraft could become a major constraint in moving ahead.

He said Air India and the government in the past had committed the mistake of ordering aircraft and then forgetting all about the need for aircraft for many years.

''I am sure we will not commit that mistake in future.... We will finalise orders for new aircraft to expand beyond 2011 in 2008,'' he added.

On the complaints of offloading of passengers due to heavy over bookings and delays, he said the airline had to cope with the situation as some flights had to be deployed for Haj pilgrims.

''No other private airlines were given this task and AI alone had to manage and we are proud of that,'' he added. The Delhi-New York flight have a convenient service-- meals at a time preferred by a passenger. It will also offer the widest seats for more legroom. The First Class will have eight seats that can be transformed into flat beds.

Passengers in the Economy Class will also be provided enhanced service and comfort levels. Each ergonomically-designed seat will have a therapeutic footrest installed in front for added comfort during long haul travel.

Passengers will have a choice to select the entertainment programmes from 250 hours of video and 150 hours of audio programming. First Class passengers will be able to view video programmes on a 23 inch monitor-- the largest monitor in any class-- Executive Class on a 15 inch monitor and the Economy Class on a 10.4 inch monitor.

''One can start with Madhubala, go up to Madhuri and end up with anything you want,'' he said Air India's Maharaja will roll out a red carpet for those travelling on the new flight.

The passengers travelling in premium classes-- First and Executive-- will get a free limousine pick up and drop services to and from IGIA and JFK Airport.

They will also receive a gift voucher of 75 dollars and 50 dollars, respectively for each sector of travel for onboard duty free shopping.

UNI

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