Finally, Air India has made it into the Star Alliance. It is indeed no little achievement.
With Air India's entry into Star Alliance, its fleet renewal underway, and Jet Airways floundering in its dalliance with Etihad, it is in a sweet spot. An example is Air India's new service to Melbourne and Sydney has forced Singapore Airlines to cut down its daily frequencies to Delhi and Mumbai from 3x to 2x - till now, Singapore was India's gateway to down-under.
Now Air India should vigorously move into new sectors, which are clear no-brainers. Notable sectors are:
- BOM - NBO - Air India pulled out a couple of years back, but as Nairobi is emerging as a gateway to Africa and India's economic interests in Africa increasing by the day, this sector will do very well
- DEL/BOM - ZRH / GVA - India-Switzerland sector is dominated by Swiss International, but still more half the traffic is routed through the Gulf or other European gateways. With Indian tourists exploring Europe like never before, this sector is a no-brainer. Don't also underestimate the traffic potential of Indians stashing away their sleazy cash in Swiss banks
- DEL-TLV - El Al already operates daily frequencies into BOM, but a growing Israeli tourist crowd flying into India (especially, Manali, backpackers after their compulsory military service) makes DEL an ideal gateway, call it the proximity effect
- DEL/BOM - LAX/SFO/SEA - Air India pulled out of Los Angeles a few years back. San Francisco and Seattle still are virgin markets. Both these destinations are hot for India IT professionals and are absolute no-brainers. Jet Airways did fly into SFO via Shanghai Pudong PVG, but pulled out
- DEL/BOM - MNL - a lucrative route for BPO traffic, Jet Airways was rumoured to be considering flying into Manila 2 years back. Philippine Airlines pulled out of Delhi a few years back leaving a vacuum
- ATQ - YYZ - another no-brainer route for Punjabi families traveling to meet their kith and kin in Trraanto, Kanadda - Amritsar has a big catchment for this traffic
- DEL - YVR - with its significant Punjabi population and big catchment in Western Canada, Vancouver is an ideal gateway
- DEL - IAD - with a potential for growing India-US ties under the Modi administration, there will be massive defence, government and lobbyist traffic between Delhi and Washington DC
- DEL - JNB/ CPT - South Africa is a gateway to Southern Africa. While South African Airways does fly into BOM, it is inconvenient for North Indians travelling to South Africa, who now have to fly through Mumbai, the Gulf or Addis Ababa
Another brainwave I got last night was that of having an Air India retrojet. Air India is an awesome brand, and people who flew the airline in its heydays - the 1970s and 80s, fondly recall the quality of service. It would be great to bring back these nostalgic loyalists back with a retro jet - a Dreamliner painted in the livery of the Air India Boeing 707s (of the 1970s and 80s) with the Centaur logo. This would be unbeatable. Airlines abroad (KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, Iberia, Malaysian) have used planes painted in retro colours as successful marketing tools!
If the Air India cleverly manages fleet renewal, new routes, marketing with a great customer service with Star Alliance standards (this is again another sweet spot - Jet Airways has nosedived on service), it would become a rising star!