Air-India has firmed up plans to boost operations in the US by increasing the frequency of existing flights and connecting new destinations over the next few months.
The airline has also launched a major training programme for its employees to offer better customer services in view of the expected competition from domestic private airlines that have been allowed to operate on overseas routes.
State-run Air-India currently connects four US destinations - New York, Newark, Los Angeles and Chicago - with Indian cities.
"By the end of this month, we will have almost a daily service to all the four destinations from New Delhi and Mumbai," Air-India Director (Public Relations) Jitendra Bhargava said.
Currently, Air-India operates daily flights to New York and Newark. The flight frequencies to Chicago and Los Angeles are six and five a week respectively.
"Beginning March 28, Air-India will have a daily service to Los Angles - four from Mumbai and three from New Delhi. The services to Chicago will also be enhanced to seven flights a week," said Bhargava.
Air-India has also decided to add three more US destinations - San Francisco, Washington and Houston - within this year after it gets possession of more aircraft with a view to maximise revenues.
"Our growth in the US routes has been phenomenal. From just 10 flights a week in December 2002, the number of flights has now gone up to 25. This will further increase to 28 by the end of this month," said the Air-India official.
According to Bhargava, Air-India has also undertaken a major exercise to improve the performance of employees as well as to give a new look to aircraft interiors to woo customers.
"We have created in-house training modules for our ground staff and cabin crews to help them serve our customers in a better way. They are being sensitised to understand the changing needs of consumers," he said.
Air-India has tied up with the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and French designer Pierre Cardin to create new uniforms for its employees under the "Making a Difference" programme.
An investment of Rs 4 billion has been earmarked for revamping the interiors of Air-India aircraft. The new changes will include luxurious seats for all classes, more luggage space and personal entertainment sets.
"We have to offer all the services that other international carriers are offering to customers," said Bhargava.
"The aviation market is becoming increasingly competitive. Today, customers have a wide choice of services to choose from. In this scenario, we have to be sensitive to the changing dynamics.
"The programme is part of our strategy to not only retain existing customers but also attract new customers," he said, adding the "Making a Difference" training programme would continue till February 2006.
Air-India will find the competition getting tougher in the days ahead with the government allowing domestic private airlines like Jet Airways and Air Sahara to fly on international routes.
Jet Airways plans to operate flights to New York within the next couple of months. It also plans to connect Chicago and San Francisco with Indian cities in the near future.