Dreamliner keeps Air India plans on course
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, the airline will launch daily services on Friday between Delhi, Sydney and Melbourne. Its return also marks the first commercial flights using 787 Dreamliners to Australia, with Air India set to pip Qantas' budget offshoot, Jetstar, in flying the new aircraft type here.
Air India's country manager, Ravi Bodade, said there was "absolutely no doubt" the airline would be able to fill the planes, which would make the daily 12-hour flights between the two countries.
"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."
Air India's decision to launch direct services to Sydney and Melbourne will pose the biggest challenge to Singapore Airlines, which has the lion's share of travel to the subcontinent from Australia. Its services operate via Singapore, while 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 a spate of incidents that led regulators to ground the worldwide fleet of 787s early 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 growth in the number of Indian nationals visiting had accelerated over the past five years even without direct services.
"The fuel efficiency of 787 Dreamliners makes the route significantly more feasible," she said.
"India has the potential to drive significant passenger growth for Sydney."
Qantas stopped flying to India in May last year when it ditched services between Singapore and Mumbai. The airline has signalled the possibility of one day flying again to Mumbai, but this would depend on it buying Boeing 787-9 planes, the longer-range Dreamliners.
The first Air India flight, which will arrive in Sydney at 8.15am on Friday, will include India's Civil Aviation Minister, Ajit Singh, and the airline's chairman and managing director, Rohit Nandan.