With Indian carriers battling for their share of leisure and business travellers bound for California this summer, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is keen to welcome its new clients from India.
To add some gleam to this new found gold rush, the City of San Francisco and India's IT capital Bangalore are also preparing for a "sister city" relationship soon, Kandace Bender, SFO's deputy airport director said.
"Out of California's 315,000-plus Asian Indians, over half live in its northern region, with the greatest concentration in the vicinity of Silicon Valley that is located within a 30-minute drive from SFO," Bender told IANS.
In addition, some 25,000 Asian Indians live in the nearby Sacramento, Yolo, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, all within a 90-minute drive from the airport, as per statistics available with US agencies.
To tap this potential, the state-run carrier Air India, Vijay Mallya-controlled Kingfisher Airlines, Naresh Goyal-promoted Jet Airways and a start-up US airline Sapphire Airways are keen to introduce flights to and from San Francisco.
"Our desire is to get flights there at the earliest," said Air India executive director communications Jitender Bhargava, speaking about his airline's plans for the India-California sector.
"We want a non-stop link between the silicon valley of India, Bangalore, and the Silicon Valley of the US in San Francisco Bay Area," Bhargava told IANS, even as the carrier announced a non-stop flight from Delhi to New York from Feb 8.
Bender said the specific dates of commencement of service in 2008 were still to be finalised but said Air India was planning three non-stop flights a week to San Francisco from Bangalore on Boeing 777 aircraft.
Similarly, she added, Jet Airways was planning a daily service from Mumbai to San Francisco via Shanghai, also on a Boeing 777, while Kingfisher was looking at a non-stop service with an Airbus-340-500SE.
In fact, Shanghai already shares a sister city relationship with San Francisco and a similar pact with Bangalore is being seen as a platform to improve trade, technological, cultural and educational opportunities between the two cities.
Already, Jet Airways has shifted its regional headquarters from New York to San Francisco to face the competition it expected from Kingfisher Airlines when it flies direct to San Francisco from August 2008.
The carrier is launching a flight from Delhi to the US West Coast in February, six months ahead of Kingfisher Airlines. A Jet Airways senior official told IANS the airline was "preparing its flight operations schedule by moving office".
In addition to holiday travel, business links between India and San Francisco are immense. "Of the 40 Bay Area firms with facilities in India, 13 are within 50 km of Delhi and nine within 50 km of Mumbai," said Bender.
Accordingly, carriers flying between San Francisco and India will also benefit from the potential offered by cargo traffic. California is the top US state for air exports, valued at $560 million in 2003, she added.
"San Francisco also leads in high-technology trade by air with India. The San Francisco Customs District reports the highest proportion of such trade by air among all US customs districts."