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Air India sets up global aviation hub at Frankfurt

Ram Parkaash Murli

In a major initiative towards strengthening its global network, Air India will make its first-ever international hub operational at Frankfurt this month-end, launching scissor operations to and from North America with a brand new fleet of Boeing aircraft.

At Frankfurt, a passenger flying from Delhi to Newark will be quickly transferred to the Mumbai-Newark flight and a person travelling to Chicago from Mumbai would have to change the aircraft on the Delhi-Chicago route.

It will take about 19 hours, including the changeover time at Frankfurt, for a passenger to reach the US cities from India.

"The Frankfurt hub will become operational on 29th March, the beginning of the summer schedule, for some of Air India's flights and will offer more convenient connections to a larger originating traffic," airline's Executive Director Jitender Bhargava said in New Delhi.

AI's decision to have a global hub in Europe follows a similar hub being operated by Jet Airways at Brussels.

The tentative schedule is that the Delhi-Chicago flight would depart at 0130 hours, arrive in Frankfurt at 0600 hours (local time) and reach Chicago in the morning at 1030 hours (local time).

The changeover timing at Frankfurt would be "realistic and minimal" as most of Air India's aircraft would be parked side by side and a passenger would just have to shift from one gate to another.

Even as it is faced with the impact of the financial slowdown in the sector in terms of declining passenger load factor, the state-owned national carrier would not reduce frequencies in summer, but "restructure its West-bound operations to improve its reach by covering larger geographical areas", Bhargava said.

The airline would also introduce some new flights including Ahmedabad-Frankfurt, from where a passenger could travel either to any European destination with the help of the code share arrangement between Air India and Lufthansa, or fly to the American cities.

Besides, the national flagship would also increase frequency of its Amritsar-London-Toronto service from three to six days a week, he said.

All these international flights are also being connected domestically through hub-and-spoke operations from and to places like Kochi, Bangalore or Chennai to Mumbai and onwards or Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Jaipur or any city in the North or East to Delhi and beyond.

Air India would launch these new services with a brand new fleet, as it would get delivery of 30 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus Industries in the coming financial year.

These are three Boeing 777-200 (Long Range), four 777-300 (Extended Range), four 737-800s, four A-320s, seven A-321s and eight A-319s.

With these planes, the total orders for eight 777-200s and 18 737-800s would be delivered to Air India.

The airline had placed a total order of 111 aircraft 68 Boeing and 43 Airbus.

"However, some of these aircraft would phase out the aged planes and replace some leased ones. The incremental capacity would be used to introduce new services or additional frequencies," Bhargava said.

As of today, Air India has a total fleet strength of 151 aircraft, which would effectively go up to around 160 by March 2010.

Air India is also "working towards" joining the Star Alliance, a 21-airline consortium, which offers 16,500 daily departures to 912 destinations in 159 countries.

It would give Air India an extended global reach and the passengers would benefit from the integrated network, common terminals, access to airport lounges worldwide, code sharing and significant expansion of the frequent flyer programmes. (NZ-1/03)