Air India bid to extract potential from Down Under
Air India is banking on the use of new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft to help it take advantage of what it describes as "untapped potential" on routes between Australia and the subcontinent.
After a 16-year absence from Australia, daily services begin on Friday between Delhi, Sydney and Melbourne. It also marks the first commercial flights using 787 Dreamliners to Australia, with Air India set to pip Qantas' budget offshoot, Jetstar.
Air India's country manager, Ravi Bodade, said there was "absolutely no doubt" the airline would be able to fill the planes making the daily 12-hour flights.
"It is a state-of-the-art aircraft, and we have a large Indian diaspora here - there is a huge student community and we are confident of filling up the aircraft," he said.
"Australia has been an under-served market from India. There is a great deal of untapped potential on the India-Australia route, which we will want to capitalise on."
Singapore Airlines has the lion's share of travel to the subcontinent from Australia with its services operating via Singapore. Malaysia Airlines flies to India via Kuala Lumpur.
"Our market share will probably not come at the cost of anybody, but it will come from the growing Indian market, as well as a significant interest from the tourism sector," Mr Bodade said.
Air India has seven of the more fuel-efficient 787 planes in its fleet, and will take delivery of another seven by the end of the year.
The aircraft seat 18 passengers in business class and 238 in economy.
The airline believes the Dreamliner will be a drawcard despite incidents leading regulators to ground the worldwide fleet of 787s for three months this year.
"We know it's a very good aircraft - we have been flying it for close to nine months now to Europe," Mr Bodade said.
"It is an aircraft that has very good economics and we hope it will be a profitable route for us."
Sydney and Melbourne airports are also eager to gain a bigger slice of the Indian market.
Sydney Airport chief executive Kerrie Mather said India had the potential for significant passenger growth for Sydney.
Qantas stopped flying to India in May last year but has signalled the possibility of one day flying again to Mumbai.
The airline has promotional fares of about $930 return economy to Delhi, and about $2490 for business class.