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Indus Airways: Reasonable fares with best of frills

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 16: With liberalization and opening of the Indian skies and friendly policies, more and more entrepreneurs with resources are seeking to venture into the aviation market this year. The latest to join the bandwagon is Indus Airways. "The airline will make Chandigarh and Delhi as its hubs. We plan to launch operations in April by leasing three 50-seater Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft," said Brig (Retd) Dr. Kapil Mohan, honorary Chairman of the airline.

To start with, Brig Kapil Mohan said the Indus Airways would connect cities such as Chandigarh, Amritsar, Delhi, Varanasi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Goa and Srinagar. "We plan to connect the hitherto uncovered sectors and also connect the metros and other major cities."

To expand its connectivity, the Chairman said the airline would purchase five Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft in 2006 taking its strength to eight. These five aircraft would arrive in February, April, May, July and December of 2006. In three years ie by 2007, the airline would acquire 12 more aircraft to take the total fleet strength to 20. He informed that the type and size of these aircraft has not yet been decided.

He said the airline would provide "very reasonable fares with best of frills." On the long-haul flights, he said the airline would provide good quality food for which we have hired some specialists. He said "it will be service with a smile."

Brig Kapil Mohan, who is known is known as a doer, said he is talking of the project today, as "I feel good about it. Had it not been so I would not have talked about. We have hired professionals to make sure that all the talks has to be airworthy."

Brig Kapil Mohan of the Mohan Meakins heads the Board of Indus Airways. Three Directors on the Board are Mr Krishan Gopal Beri, who is Managing Director of M/s Beri and Beri Cold Storage and General Mills (P) Ltd; Mr Parminder Lakhanpal, a London-based NRI; and Mr Baldev Seth, a garment exporter. Mr Amarjit Sangha, a Toronto-based NRI, is one of the investors in the airline that has a starting equity base of Rs 10 crore.

Mr Krishan Gopal Beri said the emphasis would be on quality - be it food, service or inflight comforts. He said there would also be emphasis on on-time performance and intelligent schedules. "In other words, a passenger could catch a flight early morning and return home by night after completing his task. That will also save him on his hotel bills."

Mr Parminder Lakhanpal said ERJ 145 a pressurized jet for regional transport and has a good turnaround that would help us meet our on-time targets. The ERJ 145 is also characterized by its high performance and low operating costs. It is equipped with quiet, fuel-efficient turbofan engines.

He said the leased aircraft that airline is initially taking would be only one to two years old. He said the passengers would get attracted to Indus for the great comfort ERJ offers.

Mr Baldev Seth said ERJ 145 cabin has a maximum pressure differential of 7.8 psi, offering passengers the comfort of a smooth, relaxed flight above bad weather. Since first delivery in December of 1996, more than 700 of these successful Embraer jet aircraft have been delivered to airlines around the world.

Mr Ricardo Pesce, Diector, Business Development, Asia Pacific, Civil Aircraft Market of Embraer Group, stated that by launch of RJ 145, the airline will have an upper hand in comparison to airlines running on turbo-prop ATRs in terms of time duration and facilities to passengers.

Mr Beri said the airline had submitted the proposal to the Indian Government on April 22 last year and the high-level committee of the Civil Aviation Ministry approved it in December and the company was now waiting for a final nod from the Civil Aviation Minister. He said the airline meets all the stipulated guidelines for floating and running a scheduled private carrier.

He said the airline has hired two best aviators for its operations in Northern and Central and Southern India. Capt A P C Kapoor, ex-Director (operations) Air India and a senior Commander and instructor of Boeing 747-400, would be based in Mumbai and head the operations of Central and Southern India. Similarly, Capt M S Sandhu, ex-General Manager, Air India and Boeing 747 instructor, would be based in Chandigarh and head the operations of Northern India.

Other airlines that are planning to launch operations in 2005 include Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airways, the Wadia family's Go Air, Royal Airlines (former ModiLuft) and East West.

The civil aviation ministry has granted its no-objection certificate to Kingfisher, Go and Royal that would enable them to launch scheduled flight operations this year. The launch of the several new airlines is expected to unleash a fresh round of fare wars in the domestic aviation market with all the players promising to introduce services at fares that are about 25 to30 per cent cheaper than existing rates.

Go Air is expected to take to the skies in the next couple of months. While Mallya plans to launch his airline venture by April next year, Royal Air is slated to take off a month later in May. "We will be starting our airline operations with a fleet of leased aircraft and substantial investments will be made in the venture," said Jehangir Wadia, director of the Wadia group, which also includes Britannia and Bombay Dyeing. "Though we have named the venture Go Air for now, we are conducting consumer studies to finalise the brand for the airline."

Nair takes over as Member AAI Board

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Mr P S Nair has been appointed as the Board Member (Personnel and Administration) of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the mainstay of civil aviation in the country. Besides HR development, Personnel and Industry Relations, he oversees Commercial Activities and Land Management at the AAI's 126 civil airports in the country.

Speaking to this correspondent, Mr Nair said his endeavor in the new position would be to bring in desired efficiency in the organization. "Though we have excellent technical talent we need to harness and come up to everybody's expectations and achieve corporate excellence," he added. The Corporate Mission of the AAI is "Progress through excellence and customer satisfaction with world-class airports and air traffic services fostering economic development."

Mr Nair stated that though the physical integration of erstwhile International Airports Authority of India (IAAI) and National Airports Authority of India (NAAI) took place in April 1995, but still we do not have a common policy towards employees. He said he would ensure common recruitment and promotion policy and common seniority of the employees of the two organizations that were merged to create AAI.

The new Member also stated that his endeavour would be increase the non-traffic revenue from 40 per cent of total revenue at Rs 4,500 crore to 60 per cent that is a global standard.

Mr Nair joined the erstwhile IAAI in 1977 as the first professional manager, when the country's maiden international cargo terminal was commissioned at Mumbai airport. Since then he has held various key positions in the erstwhile IAAI, including a stint in the National Dairy Development Board where he was responsible for major port operations and nationwide distribution of dairy commodities donated by EEC countries under "Operation Flood" programme.

Since 1996, Mr Nair has been an Executive Director of the AAI, holding key positions such as Airport Director, Trivendrum and Mumbai airport's Commercial, Cargo and Key infrastructure Development. Prior to his elevation as Member (P&A), Mr Nair was the Director of Capital's Indira Gandhi International Airport for nearly three years.

Widely traveled, Mr Nair has represented AAI in various high-level delegations and working groups and has also presented several papers in national and international levels, seminars and workshops. Mr Nair has undergone 12 weeks Public Enterprise Management training at Ilkley Management Centre, UK under the Colombo Plan and six weeks intensive training in Airport Handling Systems under the aegis of Frankfurt Airport Authority at Frankfurt, Germany.

ATR inks deal with Air Deccan for 30 aircraft

BANGALORE, Jan 6: European aviation major Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) on Thursday bagged a multimillion-dollar deal with Air Deccan, India's low-cost no-frills airline, to provide 30 aircraft. Of the 30 ATR 72-500 aircraft, 15 will be brand new and the remaining 15 will be leased aircraft that are five years old. The delivery schedule is spread over a five-year period at the rate of six to eight aircraft a year.

An agreement for delivering the new-cum-leased aircraft was signed here Thursday by ATR CEO Filippo Bagnato and Air Deccan's managing director G.R. Gopinath. "The ATR 72-500 aircraft have the lowest seat-mile costs in their category and a high degree of commonality with ATR 42, which leads to major cost savings and flexibility," Bagnato said.

In addition to the 30 aircraft, ATR will deliver six second-hand aircraft, including three 42-500 models and three 72-500 models. These aircraft will replace six of the existing fleet of ATR aircraft operated by Air Deccan. Currently, Air Deccan operates nine ATR-42s on its feeder routes and three Airbus A-320s on trunk routes across India. The airline is acquiring three more ATR 42-500 this month and February to expand its feeder service.

"The sticker price for each ATR 72-500 aircraft is $17.6 million. The exact price will be negotiated in consultation with export credit agencies like Sace Bank of Italy and COFAS of France, who will stand guarantee for 80-85 percent of the cost," Bagnato said.

As part of the deal, ATR has agreed to set up a training facility in Bangalore with a simulator to train rookie pilots. The first of its kind in India, the centre will have well-advanced, integrated product support. According to Gopinath, Air Deccan will acquire 15 ATR aircraft on a monthly lease of 0.75-1 percent of the total cost of the aircraft. Though five years old, these aircraft will join the fleet after overhauling and refurbishing by the manufacturers. ATR is owned by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. NV based in France and Germany, and Italy's Alenia.

IA to lease 6 more ATRs

NEW DELHI, Jan 6: The Indian Airlines board on Thursday approved leasing of six more ATR-42 aircraft for its subsidiary Alliance Air in a bid to enable it to serve more short sector regional routes. The board's clearance came as part of its approval of recommendations of the Committee of Officers, which studied the feasibility of extending domestic operations to regional routes.

The committee recommended 50-seater operations to 18 new destinations that include stations as diverse as Cooch Behar, Agatti, Gwalior, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Dehra Doon, Nasik, Simla, Surat and Jaisalmer. The hub and spoke pattern of operations will have bases in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. The board considered it appropriate that Alliance Air should undertake these operations with similar aircraft type as was currently in use - ATR-42-320.

THE `IN' THING: The Communication and Information Technology Minister, Dayanidhi Maran, presenting a certificate to Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Group, to mark the extension of the .in domain name registry services by the National Internet Exchange of India, at a function in New Delhi on Thursday.

IA launches Guwahati-Bangkok flight

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Indian Airlines on Saturday launched a twice weekly A320 flight between Guwahati and Bangkok. The Airbus flight (IC 293) will operate out of Guwahati every Saturdays and Thursday departing at 12.30 pm and out Bangkok (IC 295) on Mondays and Fridays at 2.20pm, according to an IA spokesperson.

The airline has offered a special inaugural fare for two months besides a six month excursion fare in economy class. The economy class one way inaugural fare from Guwahati, which is the eighth station in India to be linked to the Thai capital, is Rs 7,645 (round trip Rs 14,300) and business class fare of Rs 9,940 (Rs 18,590), the airline said. The six month excursion fare is Rs 13,655. Guwahati was earlier linked to Bangkok by a twice a week A310 flights of Air-India, which were subsequently withdrawn.

India allows private airlines to fly overseas

NEW DELHI, Dec 29: India will allow domestic private airlines to fly on lucrative international routes as a part of its drive to strengthen and expand the nascent sector, according to Mr Praful Patel, Civil Aviation Minister. Until last year, only India's two state-owned carriers -- international flag carrier Air-India Ltd. and the mostly domestic Indian Airlines Ltd. -- were allowed to fly on money-making international routes.

"The cabinet today approved domestic private airlines to fly overseas, apart from the Gulf countries," Patel told newsmen after a cabinet meeting in New Delhi. The move will boost the prospects of private airlines such as Jet Airways and Sahara Airlines.

A ministry statement said domestic airlines planning to fly overseas needed to have been in the business for five years and have a fleet of at least 20 aircraft. But Patel said the two state-owned carriers will be allowed to retain their monopoly to fly to the Gulf region for the next three years to protect their businesses.

"Most of their operational revenue and profit on international routes accrue from these routes," a ministry statement said. A large number of Indian professionals, most of whom travel regularly to the country, are working in Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. India's aviation sector is growing on the back of rising domestic air travel in Asia's fourth-largest economy. A cut in government taxes and increased competition has resulted in lower fares that are boosting business and tourist travel in the country.

Domestic air travel market expanded 26.5 percent in the first half of the fiscal year to March to 18.52 million passengers. As a result, almost all airlines have chalked out ambitious expansion plans and some corporates have rushed to start budget carriers as well.

The Cabinet also approved the Ministry's proposals and course of action suggested for strengthening Air India and Indian Airlines and for establishing the improved operational synergy between Air India and Indian Airlines. Further the Cabinet has approved the proposal to discontinue the practice of mandating commercial agreements on all new services, to review the existing commercial agreements and phase them out over the next five years.

Request of all eligible airlines for additional entitlements will henceforth be taken into account in bilateral negotiations. Efforts will be made to obtain traffic entitlements commensurate to the requirements of all eligible airlines. However, in case the total entitlement fall short of requirements projected by the eligible airlines, inter-se allocation of entitlements among eligible airlines will be in the ratio of Available Seat Per Kilometer (ASKM) deployed by them on domestic routes over the last five years. Due consideration will be given to the operational plan of Air India/Indian Airlines while allotting entitlements to Indian Scheduled Carriers. The Ministry of Civil Aviation will draw detailed guidelines in this regard.

With a view to encouraging greater connectivity, creating a level playing field, reducing passenger tariffs and ensuring viability of operations, the practice of demanding compensation from foreign airlines by way of commercial agreements mandated by the government will be discontinued. All new operations by foreign carriers, both on new destinations as well as on existing routes, will be free from the obligations of the mandated commercial agreements. All existing government mandated commercial agreements will be reviewed and phased out over the next five years. However, the airlines will be free to enter into such cooperative marketing arrangements as are mutually agreed upon by them.

Air Deccan seeks new heights

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: In its endeavor to 'empower every Indian to fly', Air Deccan, India's only budget carrier, has connected Jaipur, Amritsar and Agra to the Capital city of Delhi from Monday. From January 10 next, the airline's Managing Director, Capt G R Gopinath, said the low fare, no frills carrier would be connecting Delhi to Bhopal, Jabalpur, Chandigarh, Jammu, Dehradun and Kanpur and another flight to the pink city, Jaipur and the city of Taj, Agra.

To extend his support for the growth of aviation in the country, the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, had gone to the Delhi airport to flag off the inaugural flight to Dehradun. Mr Patel along with Capt Gopinath and Mr Jean_luc Establie, Sales Director, ATR, had addressed the newsmen to mark Air Deccan's launch to smaller cities in Northern India.

Capt Gopinath said the airline's endeavor is to connect the unconnected routes. "In the past we connected unconnected cities like Hubli, Belgaum and Vijaywada with the metros of Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Now we are connecting cities like Dehradun, Amritsar, Kanpur and Jabalpur to Delhi."

He said "our aim is also to make air travel affordable for the common man." He said the airline would continue to follow dynamic fares that would function with demand and supply on any given route. On the lines of Western zero-frill carriers like Ryan Air and Easy Jet, Air Deccan has introduced dynamic pricing on its fares. Here the meter starts ticking at just Rs 500 for early buyers and climbs up to 45 per cent of the regular airline fare at the top end of the spectrum.

For example, he said a Delhi-Bangalore ticket on a conventional airline like Jet Airways cost Rs 11,400 per ticket, in Air Deccan the highest price of the ticket is Rs 6,400. "Passenger buying tickets closer to the date of the flight, running as close an hour before take off from the airport will pay such fares. Total number of tickets sold at Rs 500 is Rs 64,000," he added.

Capt Gopinath said "for India to attain 8 to 9 per cent GDP growth and for economic prosperity of the nation, it is very important to integrate the regional cities in backward areas to the metros not only with TV, Internet and highways but also with air."

He said air connectivity to interiors and 'low fares' across the country would increase mass travel, give fillip to trade and commerce, and boost tourism as all the major tourist destinations and wild life parks are in remote areas and tourism being the largest employer of people in the world and also the largest foreign exchange earner would generate employment in rural areas.

From operating a modest four flights a day in August 2003, Air Deccan has grown today into a reliable and efficient airline flying over 80 flights a day connecting 28 airports. The airline is presently operating a modern fleet of nine ATR 42 500 aircraft and three Airbus A320s. Two of the ATRs are based in Delhi to connect seven States to and from Delhi.

Capt Gopinath said three more 48-seater ATRs would be joining the in January and February. Only a few days ago, Air Deccan had announced plans to buy 30 A320 planes from Airbus. Air Deccan said the deliveries of the aircraft are to begin in 2007. Airbus chief commercial officer John Leahy said "the deal is worth $1.8 billion at catalog prices."

The purchase by Air Deccan, owned by Bangalore-based helicopter charter firm Deccan Aviation Private Ltd., is part of an ambitious plan to quadruple its fleet from 15 to 60 planes in five years. Capt Gopinath said the Airbus deal would be financed partly from $40 million raised earlier this month from ICICI Venture Funds and US-based Capital International. He said Air Deccan also had options for an additional $10 million from the two firms.

Mohan Kumar, director of finance at Air Deccan, said that 85 per cent of the funds was expected to come from a consortium of banks comprising France's Coface, German credit insurer Hermes and Britain's Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) which would provide guarantee support or direct funding. The rest would be from equity financing or funds from banks.

IA evacuates record number of people

NEW DELHI, Dec 29: Indian Airlines has evacuated a record 1,117 passengers from Port Blair on a single day on Wednesday. It operated 11 flights to and from Port Blair. Seven flights were operated from Kolkata and four from Chennai.

According to a press release, Indian Airlines will operate three flights to Port Blair tomorrow - two from Kolkata and one from Chennai - in view of a decrease in the demand for evacuation of passengers. Indian Airlines has, since the day of the tragedy, operated 26 relief flights to Port Blair.

Regional Directors of Indian Airlines can be contacted for transportation of relief material on the following numbers: Northern region (Delhi): 25672800; Eastern region (Kolkata): 22116953; Southern region (Chennai): 22561070 and Western region (Mumbai): 26156788. Special cells have also been set up to disseminate flight information. The telephone numbers of these are: Kolkata: 22116869 and 22110041; Chennai: 22560022; Delhi: 25674270 and 25672226; Mumbai: 26256986.

Jet evacuates over 1,300 from Andamans

NEW DELHI, Dec 29: Over 1,300 people have been successfully evacuated from the tsunami ravaged Andaman & Nicobar Islands by Jet Airways on its 15 Boeing 737 flights from Port Blair to Chennai and Kolkata since Sunday. Jet Airways also carried over 200 passengers from Chennai and Kolkata to Port Blair after the Islands were hit by tsunami.

The Airline's flights from Chennai and Kolkata to Port Blair have flown over 13,000 kgs of relief supplies comprising packaged drinking water, foodstuffs, clothing and medicines for relief efforts in the beleaguered Islands. Sensing the shortage of drinking water the Airline purchased over 6,000 bottles of water and also 360 boxes of meals, 30 kgs each of samosas and kachoris and flown to Port Blair from Kolkata. Jet Airways will operate one Boeing 737 flights to Port Blair from Chennai and another from Kolkata on Thursday.

Air India to ferry relief material free for Tsunami victims

MUMBAI, Dec 28: Air-India will transport relief material, donated by various agencies and NGOs, for the victims of the tsunami floods, free of cost to India from various points on its global network. Organisations wishing to donate relief material may contact state-owned carrier's offices in their city, an AI spokesman said here today.

The airline would give priority booking in return travel to those who may have curtailed their visit to Thailand after being affected by the tragedy, he said. The AI employees would also contribute one-day's salary, including Productivity Linked Incentive, to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund in the wake of the tragedy caused by tsunami floods in the southern states of the country, he added.

IA flies 952 people out of Port Blair

NEW DELHI, Dec 28: Contributing to relief operations in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Indian Airlines on Tuesday flew nearly 1,000 people out of the tsunami-hit territory. The airline operated five flights from Kolkata and three from Chennai to Port Blair which evacuated 952 stranded passengers today, an Indian Airlines spokesman said here.

The planes also carried water from Kolkata and medicines from Chennai to the island group where an estimated 4,000 people were killed by tsunami waves on Sunday. As a large number of people are still stranded, the airline planned to operate 15 relief flights to Port Blair on Wednesday - seven from Chennai and eight from Kolkata - which are expected to evacuate 1,785 people. As a result, many scheduled flights of Alliance Air will be cancelled, the spokesman said.

On Monday, Indian Airlines had operated five relief flights and evacuated 593 passengers and on Sunday it had operated two relief flights.

Jet operates 5 relief flights

NEW DELHI, Dec 28: Jet Airways on Tuesday announced that it would operate six flights to Port Blair from Chennai and Kolkata on Wednesday to evacuate stranded tourists and residents of the archipelago. These flights will also ferry relief and medical supplies, mineral water and essential food items for the stranded passengers at the Port Blair Airport.

Jet Airways also operated five Boeing 737 flights in all from Chennai and Kolkata on Tuesday to and from Port Blair. Two flights each were operated on Chennai-Port Blair-Chennai sectors and three each on Kolkata-Port Blair-Kolkata sectors. These flights have also been carrying relief and medical supplies from Governmental and other recognised voluntary agencies to Port Blair from Chennai and Kolkata free of charge.

In view of the national catastrophe, Jet stated that it would not collect any cancellation charges for tickets issued for travel on Chennai-Port Blair-Chennai, Kolkata-Port Blair-Kolkata and Chennai-Colombo-Chennai sectors until December 31. This gesture is also extended to tickets issued separately on domestic sectors in conjunction with onward journey on these routes. Moreover, tickets purchased for travel on the services of Jet Airways and Indian Airlines on the Chennai-Port Blair-Chennai or Kolkata-Port Blair-Kolkata sectors can be endorsed on Indian Airlines or vice versa.

Jet Airways has also contributed Rs 50 lakhs to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund for rehabilitation of the tsunami victims of India. A cheque for the amount was handed over to the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr TKA Nair, late Monday evening by Jet Airways' Executive Vice President, Lt. Gen (Retd.) Inder Varma on behalf of the airline.

Jet Airways also made another contribution of USD 55,000 for similar efforts in the Island Nation of Sri Lanka. The cheque to the President's Fund for Rehabilitation was handed over to the President of Sri Lanka, Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the President House, Colombo by Lt Gen Varma on Tuesday. Additionally, around 7,000 employees of Jet Airways will contribute a day's salary for relief efforts of the tsunami victims of the coastal areas of India.

IA evacuates tourists from Andaman

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: Indian Airlines on Monday launched an evacuation operation to airlift more than 2000 stranded tourists in the Andaman and Nicobar islands which had been devastated by a powerful earthquake and resultant tsunami tidal waves. The IA dispatched five aircraft since early Monday morning to bring back 593 stranded passengers from Port Blair, an IA spokesman said.

On Sunday, Indian Airlines had operated two flights and brought back about 293 tourists. On Tuesday, the airline would send nine flights from Kolkatta and Chennai to bring back over 1,000 stranded tourists.

Most of these flights went almost empty with only a small number of residents of Andaman and Nicobar, who were in the mainland and wanted to return following reports of the catastrophe, said the spokesman. Some relief materials were also despatched by these flights.

The IA management under the supervision of a high powered team had taken the decision to arrange for special flights to evacuate the stranded tourists in the islands, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Jet Airways also announced that it will fly medical and relief supplies from Governmental or other recognized voluntary agencies free of charge for rescue and rehabilitation work, from Chennai to Port Blair with immediate effect. Jet Airways operates one Boeing 737 flight daily between Chennai and Port Blair. On Monday Jet Airways operated two Boeing 737 flights between Chennai and Port Blair.

Jet Airways also operated its special seasonal flight Kolkata-Port Blair-Kolkata as scheduled on Sunday and also on Monday. "This flight will continue to be operated daily till tomorrow. Medical and Relief supplies can also be sent in the Kolkata-Port Blair sector," Jet spokesperson said.

Air India poised to regain top slot

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: The Air India Chairman and Managing Director, Mr V Thulasidas, is a man with a mission. His priority is to ensure that Maharaja regains its past glory in the least possible time. To ensure this he has set his targets and is keeping an eagle eye over them. One of his top priorities in restoring the health of the airline is to ensure that Air India gets new aircraft, a decision that has been pending for over a decade. Mr Thulasidas, who completes his one year as CMD on December 21, has reasons to be happy. During his short tenure, the national flag carrier has taken decisions on pending issues of the past several years. The airline is set to launch a low-cost carrier, Air India Express, in April next year. It is also set to launch a cargo carrier next year. And to top it all the Air India Board has approved acquisition plan for 50 aircraft. Its subsidiary, Air India Charters Limited, has decided to acquired 18 Boeing 7367-800W aircraft for use by Air India Express.

In an interview with this correspondent, Mr Thulasidas said that this fleet acquisition plan, which covers a period up to 2012-2013, provides for an increase in fleet size from the present 34 to 74 - a net addition of 40 aircraft. Air-India proposes to increase seat capacity by 12 per cent annually over this period.

In a passionate interview with this correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, he said "our country is one of the largest and strongest and I don't see why we cannot do well in the world. Today I have been given the responsibility to get Air India on the top. And I don't see why we cannot achieve this target."

In plain words he has made this very clear to the Air India staff too. Perform or perish. Either you all go up or you all will go down. The choice is yours. But he adds in the same breath that there was no reason why Air India cannot achieve its past glory of becoming one of the top airlines of the world. He said "the unions are supporting the management. We also are receiving excellent support from the Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr Praful Patel, and the Government."

Mr Thulasidas said "Indian travel market is booming. Five millions are traveling abroad. Three millions foreign tourists are coming to India. That makes it a total of 8 million air traffic. At present all foreign airlines are taking away traffic. But if national airlines get a good part of this traffic it is good for the national economy."

The Chairman and Managing Director said "we are not against foreign airlines. Let them also come. But let there be competition and let us all make our national carrier strong to face the competition." Today, Mr Thulasidas said "Air India is poised at a very decisive moment. It needs to grow in size to meet the competition from the large international airlines. It has to be profitable. The service has to be top class and productivity has to be good."

The CMD said "This is a mission. It is not just my mission. There are people who are proud to see an Air India aircraft in their own country. People plead to us to give them a chance to fly Air India."

He said "right now the airline is increasing its fleet strength through the lease route. We hope to get approvals from the Government for 50 aircraft for Air India and 18 aircraft for Air India Express next year." With this, he said, Air India would have more flights and more network. "We are also in the process of upgrading our existing aircraft with internet and telephone facilities and better seats."

On December 7, the Board of Air-India Charters Limited, a subsidiary of Air-India, at its meeting held in Delhi, had approved the project report for acquisition of 18 Boeing 737-800W aircraft for use by Air India Express. These aircraft on induction will replace the ones being taken on lease by AICL for Air-India Express for commencing operations effective April 2005. While a firm price for the entire order is yet to be fixed, the deal will be worth close to $1 billion at the current list price of $60 million per aircraft.

The project report revised on the basis of low cost and low fares was later submitted to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for securing Government's approval. It may be recalled that Air-India Board had last year approved the purchase of these aircraft for its own use but consequent upon the creation of Air-India Express, which will serve destinations in the Gulf and South East Asia, the project report was revised.

On November 24, The Air-India Board approved the floating of tenders for inviting offers for acquisition of 50 aircraft - of which two-third will be on firm basis and one-third on option. Air-India proposes to acquire three types of aircraft for its fleet, viz. Medium Capacity Ultra Long Range aircraft (A340-500/B777-200LR); Medium Capacity Long Range - 350 seater in three-class configuration (A340-600/B777-300ER); and Medium Capacity Long Range -- 250 seater in two class configuration (A330-200/B7E7-8). The airline has now invited offers from Aircraft and Engine manufacturers and subsequently undertakes a techno-economic review of the offers received.

Mr Thulasidas informed that Air India is now connected with Los Angeles five times a week. Air India that commenced flight to LA in June this year added two more frequencies effective December 2. With five flights now available to passengers per week, travel between Mumbai and Los Angeles will become more convenient as Air-India is the only airline to offer direct connectivity between the two cities, without change of aircraft en route.

These flights, operated via Frankfurt, also provide seamless hub and spoke connections from Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata to Los Angeles and convenient connections on Indian Airlines on the return leg. All the five flights to Los Angeles will be operated with Boeing 747-400 aircraft, the First and Executive Class cabins of which have newly installed flat beds and slumberettes respectively. These cabins have also been recently retrofitted to provide personal video entertainment and a choice of popular movies.

The United States has been a major growing market for Air-India. To cater to the increased demand, Air-India has been gradually increasing its presence in Europe and the USA. With the introduction of the two new flights to Los Angeles, Air-India's flights to the USA will be increased to 25 per week -- seven to New York via London, seven to Newark via Paris, six to Chicago -- three each via London and Frankfurt, and five to Los Angeles via Frankfurt.

By April 2005 the national carrier is, in fact, proposing to operate a daily service to Los Angeles and also to Chicago. Air-India will thus have daily services to each of its four online stations in the USA -- New York, Newark, Chicago and Los Angeles by the summer 2005 schedule.

Air China shares open higher at debut in Hong Kong stock exchange

HONG KONG, Dec 16: Shares of China's biggest airline Air China Ltd. opened 6 percent higher at their debut on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday, in line with market expectations. Air China, the third Chinese carrier to list in Hong Kong, opened at 3.15 Hong Kong dollars, compared with its initial public offering price of HK$ 2.98. Analysts had expected the airline's shares to open 5 percent to 10 percent above its IPO price.

The Beijing-based carrier was listed in London later on Wednesday, making it the first Chinese company to have a dual listing in Britain and Hong Kong in recent years. Air China Chairman Li Jailing, said the airline chose London over New York because it has a greater exposure to European destinations. "The dual listing of Air China in Hong Kong and London is a great milestone for the company,'' Li said.

Ma Xulun, President of Air China, said: ``The listing enables us to expand our fleet, strengthen our position as one of China's largest commercial airlines.'' Air China raised HK$8.36 billions (US$1.07 billions; euro 812 millions) by selling 2.806 billion shares, or a 30 percent stake. The airline, which has a fleet of 136 aircraft, said the funds raised from the offering will be used to buy 10 Airbus and four Boeing jets and to repay debts.

Air China said it expects a strong rebound in its full-year earnings, with net profit rising to 2.29 billion yuan (US$276.57 millions; euro 208.56 millions) _ from 159.60 million yuan in 2003 when the airline was hit hard by the SARS outbreak. Last month, Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathy Pacific Airways Ltd. signed a memorandum of understanding with Air China to buy 9.9 percent of the Chinese airline's IPO shares.

The deal, which includes coordinated schedules and joint marketing efforts, will give Cathay a bigger presence in the booming mainland market from which the Hong Kong carrier has so far been largely excluded. Two other mainland Chinese carriers have already listed in Hong Kong -- China Southern Airlines Co. and China Eastern Airlines Corp.

Cosmic Air launches India operations

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Cosmic Air, a leading private carrier of Nepal, has launched its India operations, offering two flights daily between Delhi and Kathmandu. The airline, with a wide network within Nepal, is offering promotional fare of "Buy One, Get One Free" on the Delhi-Kathmandu sector. Capt. R. D. Pradhan, Executive Chairman of SOI group, of which Cosmic Air is a subsidiary, said the airline aimed at developing Indian market for tourism and business traffic.

He said that affordable fares and value for money would be the hallmark of services of Cosmic Air. The airline plans to fly to other cities in India such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Lucknow, Varanasi and Bodh Gaya by early next year. It is offering promotional fare of Rs. 2,700 plus taxes on the Delhi-Kathmandu sector till December 31 but tickets would be valid for a year.

Indian Airlines posts Rs. 44 crore net profit

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 3: After a gap of four years, Indian Airlines has made a turnaround, posting a net post-tax profit of Rs 44.17 crore in 2003-04 as against the net loss of Rs 196.6 crore the previous year. The IA Board, which met in Mumbai on Friday, approved the annual accounts of the public sector carrier, which also made an operating profit of Rs 125.10 crore compared with an operating loss of Rs 134.72 crore in 2002-03, according to Mr Sunil Arora, Chairman and Managing Director of Indian Airlines.

Mr Arora said Indian Airlines increased its operating revenue by over 13 per cent, which rose from Rs 4101.5 crore in 2002-03 to Rs 4649.8 crore last fiscal. Noting that the last time Indian Airlines made profit was way back in 1998-99, he said the company earned profit despite major hikes in prices of aviation turbine fuel (ATF), which led to an increase in the operating expenses by 6.81 per cent to Rs. 4,524.7 crores.

The CMD attributed the turnaround to several cost-cutting measures, better utilisation of aircraft, carrying more passengers, improving overall load and seat factors. He said the airline saved Rs. 73 crores in 2001-02, Rs. 102 crores and Rs. 190 crores in the next two years on several counts.

Mr. Arora said the company showed improvement in its financial performance despite hike in average domestic ATF price to Rs. 21,000 per kilolitre during 2003-04 as against Rs. 19,900 in the previous year. ATF price is a major cost component of the carrier, about 30 per cent of the operating cost in India as against global norm of 15 to 18 per cent.

He said advance purchase (APEX) fares and other discounted schemes also accounted for 25 to 30 per cent of the seats. "For all practical purposes APEX fares are here to stay,'' he added. The public sector carrier recently got the nod from the Public Investment Board for acquiring 43 aircraft from Airbus and it needs the Government's approval to begin the price negotiations for the Rs. 10,000-crore deal that would give it added capacity as well as renew its aging fleet.

 



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