Dubai, March 15, 2005
India's national carrier Air India announced in Dubai
that its low-cost airline subsidiary would commence
Gulf operations by end-April and would open online
reservations from March 18.
Air-India Express (AIE), the Indian carrier's long-awaited
answer to Gulf's large non-resident Indian community's
plea for low air fares in the Gulf-India sector, will
be offering a budget fare structure that is up to
50 per cent lower than the market fares.
V. Thulasidas, Chairman and Managing Director of
Air India, said on Sunday that the wholly-owned subsidiary
would operate flights to all countries in the Gulf
except Saudi Arabia.
Initially, with three next-generation 737-800 Boeing
taken on lease, AIE will fly to Abu Dhabi, Muscat,
Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait. When the fleet size is
expanded to 18 aircraft as planned, the carrier will
operate to more global destinations, including south-east
Asian countries like Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala
Thulasidas, who was in Dubai with senior Air India
team as part of a Gulf tour to finalise arrangements
for the no-frill airline's inaugural flight set for
April 29, said the Boeing 737-800 aircraft would have
a single economy class configuration of 180 seats.
"Those booking seats in advance stand to benefit
more in terms of lower fare than last minute ticket
buyers," he said. Although the reservations system
will be web-based, AIE will have travel agents.
In the initial phase, AIE will operate daily flights
from Cochin and Calicut to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Muscat
while Air India, operating large-bodied aircraft to
facilitate transport of vegetable cargo to the Gulf,
will continue to serve Trivandrum sector for the time
being. AIE will also add more Indian cities such as
Chennai to its network over the next few months as
its fleet grows with the acquisition of more 737-800s.
The budget airline will offer a baggage allowance
of 30 kilos only compared to the 40-kilos allowance
Air India is offering, and will charge the passenger
for food and drinks served on board.
Air-India has already placed orders for 18 Boeing
737-800 aircraft at a cost of Rs50 billion. The delivery
of the aircraft will be made in three years, Thulasidas
said. For the launch operations, three aircraft have
been leased from Boullioun Aviation Services Inc.
by Air-India Charters Ltd.
Thulasidas said he would look into fare anomalies
on some sectors where the carriers is currently serving
and agreed that it was time the staff of the Indian
flag carrier change their work culture to cope with
the new challenges.