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Air-India Express (AIE), Gulf operations to start by end of April
50 per cent lower than the market fares.

Dubai, March 15, 2005
Khaleej Times

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 Lumpur.

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.

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