A-I budget airline will be launched between Kerala to the Gulf in March, 2005 by Air India


MUSCAT, November 02, 2004
Times of Oman
NRI Press

Air-India will launch its budget airlines — Air-India Express — in March 2005, V. Thulasidas, chairman and managing director of the airline, has said.

Thulasidas, who was on a private visit to the Sultanate recently, noted that Air-India hoped to launch its budget airline in March 2005, a month earlier than previously planned.

It had been earlier stated that the budget airlines would formally come on stream in April next, but owing to the increasing demand from cash-strapped passengers from the Gulf for such a budget airline, they would try and launch it at least a month earlier than planned, Thulasidas said.

According to the plans, Air-India will induct three 180-seat economy class aircraft in the first phase. These aircraft will fly from Kerala to the Gulf sector route, and will gradually increase its frequency as well as destination span over a period of time.

The airline proposes to fly from key Kerala-based points, which are having international airports, like Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram to Muscat, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, from March-end, as part of its inaugural run.

Airline sources close to Air-India noted that they would operate only economy class for the moment, with the proposal to add business classes if there is demand, especially from sectors like Dubai.

Apparently, light snacks would be served on board, but details on these and other aspects are awaiting finalisation.

By April 2005 itself, Air-India will be adding on another three aircraft, taking the total to six airlines, sources said.

Plans are afoot to add the other areas in the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council states like Bahrain, Doha (Qatar) and Kuwait in the budget destination network within a few months after the launch.

As for Saudi Arabia, negotiations are on in this regard, but it will happen only after governmental level meetings have been done.

Air-India is also planning to obtain 18 more aircraft by next October and this will take the total of the budget airlines to 24 then.

The budget airline plan is not confined to Kerala alone. Soon, as the concept develops and more passengers are drawn into the promise of ‘budget’ travelling, the airline would introduce budget flights from Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata to various destinations in the Gulf and also the Far East. If there is a good flow, chances are that the flights would be introduced from Bangalore and Hyderabad too, the sources said.

Once the budget airline service is set, the normal service will slowly be decreased. “First the airline will look into increasing the services of the budget airlines and the normal service will slowly be reduced,” the sources said.

Apparently, the Indian union Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Praful Patel, has not only blessed the launch of the budget airline, but was also fully promoting it, the sources said. The budget flights would be operated using smaller aircraft and will have all economy-class configurations. According to other airline sources, the budget airline would offer fares that are about 25 per cent lower than those on regular carriers.

The main reason that Air-India has gone in for budget airlines was due to the widespread campaigns launched by several Indian organisations in the Gulf to their governments back home, reports said.

Although earlier reports had noted that Air-India was not including Bahrain and Doha in the route network, it was later stated that the destinations would be considered in the second phase of the budge airline operations.

Meanwhile, Thulasidas also met the representatives of the NRI Forum and listened to the passenger grievances that they raised. Alex K. Chacko, Samji Chunkathu and Vijay Varghese of the NRI Forum made a fervent plea to the top airline official for the provision of suitable concession for family tickets. They raised this valid issue, giving the example of how a family of four Keralites had to shell out a huge amount of money for a holiday trip to India and how many families had indefinitely postponed their leave. “Some of them have not gone back home for three to four years. Taking this into consideration, we requested Air-India to think about providing concessions on family tickets.

“The Air-India chairman was very positive on the issue and said he would give the request serious thought and study the pros and cons before arriving at a decision.

“We are quite pleased by the positive response by Thulasidas and we feel he is the right man at the helm of affairs on the Air-India front,” Chacko, Chunkathu and Varghese enthused.