Dubai: Air India Express – fresh from an image makeover – will focus immediately on better connectivity between the UAE and destinations in India, as it soon starts taking delivery of new aircraft.
“By March next, we are looking at 21 new aircraft, and by December 2024, we would have 50 new planes, which would increase our total fleet size to 100 aircraft,” said Aloke Singh, Managing Director of the budget airline.
For Indian expats in the UAE, this would add up to much improved services on routes such as Sharjah to Surat, Dubai to Indore, or Sharjah to Delhi, and offering options to price-conscious travellers.
The airline may also look at increasing frequencies to destinations on the high demand UAE to Kerala sector. (But on the hyper-busy Delhi-Dubai or Mumbai-Dubai services, the flagship carrier Air India had taken over all flights from last summer onwards.)
And for those Indian expats elsewhere in the Gulf, the new aircraft for Air India express could mean more flights to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “In the GCC, we are going to up some frequencies, and we are going to make some scheduled changes to serve the region better,” said Singh on the sidelines of Dubai Airshow.
“We operate an average of 24-25 flights a day (from UAE) to various points in India.”
New look, new aircraft, new strategy
Following its acquisition by the Tata Group, the budget carrier underwent a ‘youthful makeover’ last month. The airline has put into service three of its new-look Boeing 737-8 aircraft on domestic routes and expects delivery of two more this month.
Air India placed a record order for 470 aircraft earlier this year, of which 400 will be narrow body types.
“A good part of the 400 would be operating under the LCC (low-cost carrier) model,” said Singh. “While we haven’t taken a final call on the exact distribution of flights, we are looking at about 175 aircraft to operate under the Air India Express brand in five years.”
The airline has also introduced a ‘premium’ seat offering on its newer jets for the short term. “We will not offer a Business class because our focus will remain very much on an all-economy model,” he added. “But these Premium seats will be available to UAE and regional customers once we complete training on Indian domestic routes.”
“In the last six months, 350 pilots and 550 cabin crew members have joined, with ongoing recruitment at a rate of 50 pilots and nearly 200 cabin crew every month,” said Aloke Singh of Air India Express.
The airline aims to on-board 450 pilots and 700-800 cabin crew by the end of 2024 to support its strategic growth plan.
High airfares to India
Airfares on UAE-India routes shoot up to exorbitant levels, especially during high summer and winter seasons. However, Singh has assured that airfares on Air India Express will remain competitive despite the huge investments the airline has made in its new fleet and the rebranding exercise.
“Our fares will remain competitive, influenced by market presence and operational costs, primarily driven by oil prices,” said Singh. “Prices will follow our typical model, offering better rates for early bookings.”
However, predicting whether fares will rise, or fall is challenging, as they are market-driven. “Taking a long-term perspective, fares have generally kept pace with or even remained below the inflation rate,” said Singh.