'AI has blueprint to become world class carrier'
Air India has a major blueprint for expansion and integration to make it a "world class carrier", with plans for at least three maintenance, repair and overhaul units even as it gears up for the "best interline pact" with Star Alliance, says chairman and managing director V Thulasidas.
"You will see us as a completely integrated airline from April 1 next year, not just with the erstwhile Indian Airlines but also the Star Alliance, the world's largest and, I would say the best, interline pact," said the airline executive.
"Air India will emerge as a world class carrier to give passengers seamless choice of travel, in India and to any destination in the world," Thulasidas told IANS from his grand sea-facing office in India's commercial capital.
The top airline executive also spoke at length about the proposal to induct more aircraft into the fleet, in addition to the 111 ordered by Air India, Air India Express and Indian Airlines, and the lookout for a hub in Europe.
"We are looking at Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna as possible European hubs," he said, adding since Star Alliance has German carrier Lufthansa and Austrian as founder partners, having a base in these cities made better sense for Air India.
On induction of new aircraft, he did not want to talk about any specific make or type when asked if there were plans to buy the Airbus A-380. He said long haul aircraft with higher seating capacities were under consideration.
"Air India will not stop with one or two orders. We will avoid what happened in the past where after one order we stopped buying aircraft and that constrained our operations. We are examining and evaluating our requirements," he said.
Between Air India and Indian, orders had been placed two years ago for 68 Boeing and 43 airbus aircraft, of which 31 had been delivered, 12 to Indian, 11 to Air India Express and eight to Air India.
On the maintenance, repair and overhaul units, also called MROs, Thulasidas said talks were in the final stages with Boeing and that an agreement was already on with EADS, the European aerospace consortium that owns Airbus Industrie.
"In both cases it will be for the aircraft body and in both cases we will soon choose a third partner. Both these MROs will function as separate entities and will cater not only to Air India's fleet but other airlines as well," he said.
"For the third MRO, our aircraft have engines like those from GE for wide-bodied aircraft, CFM for Boeing 737-800s and some smaller Airbus aircraft and Pratt and Whitney for older Boeing 747s," he said.
"We will soon float an RFP (request for proposal) for the engine MRO," he said.
Thulasidas said the process of integrating Air India and Indian was on full-swing, based on the recommendations of global consultancy Accenture, adding that a new dimension had been added to it after the decision to join Star Alliance.
"The merger and integration are both on fast track. Accenture had said that the merger would take 18-24 months to become operational. So March 31 next year is our deadline and this includes integration with Star Alliance," he said.
"This involves integration of not just ticketing, frequent flier programmes and sharing of lounges but also sharing of airport terminal space and optimisation of all available resources at the disposal," he said.
"A specialist software house will soon be finalised for the integration of areas like e-ticketing and code-share pact. It involves Air India and Indian Airlines first and the 19 partners of Star Alliance as well."
Speaking about new routes, Thulasidas said San Francisco was the most immediate in his mind, having already launched non-stops to New York from both Mumbai and New Delhi. "It will be SFO (San Francisco International Airport."
The airline chairman also sought to put to rest confusion over the entity of Air India, Indian Airlines and other carriers in their fold following the approval to their merger last year.
"The holding company now is National Aviation Company of India Ltd and there is only one brand. And that brand is Air India. All other brands would cease. From now, the new fleet of Indian Airlines will also sport Air India signage."
(Arvind Padmanabhan can be contacted at email@example.com)