MIAMI – Air India Chairman, Ashwani Lohani, posted yesterday morning: “To Washington from 7th July; Stockholm from 15th August and Los Angeles from 1st September to be followed by Tel Aviv, Dallas, and Nairobi sometime later during the year 2017 itself. Air India spreads its wings far and wide.”
If true, this will grow Air India’s roster of international destinations from 37 to over 40 – signifying a major turn in the corner for a carrier that had been in a growth recession roughly a decade earlier.
Air India’s integration into Star Alliance in 2014, along with the addition of the fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner, has greatly facilitated its international expansion over the past four years.
Since 2013, Air India has added or resumed services to Sydney, Melbourne, Birmingham, Milan, Rome, Moscow, Madrid, Newark, San Francisco and Vienna. Washington Dulles will resume on July 7th and the remaining destinations, listed above, are expected to follow later this year.
The carrier has an entirely Boeing-oriented wide-body fleet, comprised of 23 Boeing 787-8 variants, 12 Boeing 777-300ER variants, three Boeing 777-200LRs and four 747-400s. They also have four 787-8s and three 777-300ERs on order, per airfleets.net, although purportedly the carrier also intends to lease a few 787-9 variants to facilitate ultra-long range flights to markets like Los Angeles and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Although the schedules for these four rumored markets – Stockholm, Tel Aviv, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Nairobi and Los Angeles – are neither loaded into the GDS nor bookable on Air India’s website, generally, the carrier has a habit of following through with its route announcements.
There are some exceptions, however: Air India had announced that flights to Copenhagen and Tel Aviv would commence in May 2017, which to date have not materialized. The carrier appears to have gone dark on Copenhagen, presumably replacing it with Stockholm, while Tel Aviv has been indefinitely delayed.
While India and Israel have strong diplomatic and commercial ties, particularly in the pharmaceutical and tech sectors, nonstop flights between the two countries require obscure routings to avoid the airspaces of nations which do not recognize Israel as an official country. As such, this can create challenges and delays during the start-up period.
Air India has also been motivated to expand in the U.S. following an electronics ban, issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in March 2017, which prohibits travelers flying from a specified group of countries (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait) from carrying devices larger than a smartphone in carryon luggage.
The vast majority of airlines operating services from those nations to the United States carry 6th-freedom traffic from India. As such, Air India, who was not impacted by the ban, has stated that the new regulations have been beneficial for their nonstop India – U.S. flights and bookings have experienced a boost.
The Indian flag carrier has previously served Los Angeles, via Frankfurt, but dropped the route in 2008. They’ve never served Texas, although has expressed interest in serving Dallas and Houston in previous years. All three of the major Gulf Coast carriers (Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways) fly daily nonstop services from their Middle Eastern hubs to Dallas and Los Angeles, and Turkish Airlines also offers nonstop service from Los Angeles to Istanbul.
Other one-stop carriers between Dallas and Los Angeles and India include British Airways, Lufthansa, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, United, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific (codeshare with American Airlines). Los Angeles also has 1-stop connections via KLM, Air France, SWISS, Aeroflot, China Eastern, China Southern, All Nippon Airways, Air China, Asiana and Singapore Airlines.