Dubai: Air India is the latest airline to confirm more flights to the UAE and Qatar come November, which is when the FIFA World Cup gets off the blocks.
The carrier, owned by Tata Sons since the start of this year, will relaunch four weekly flights between Dubai and Kolkata once the winter schedule starts October 22. It will operate the Airbus A320Neo with a capacity of 12 Business Class seats and 150 Economy.
“We are currently using all our entitlements to fly into Dubai,” said P.P Singh, Regional Manager at Air India. “Additional routes will require a change in bilaterals (agreements) between the two countries.”
As for Doha flight plans, Air India could deploy additional flights connecting India to Qatar. “A clearer picture will emerge by August 22, after all airlines file their slots,” said Singh.
Air India will be hoping that it would be able to win those additional flights, more so before November, when traffic on these routes are set to rise exponentially as footballs attend the World Cup matches of their choice.
The initiative - 'One India One Fare' - offers discounted one-way fares from all Gulf destinations, except Oman, to any Indian destination. This is valid on tickets sold during the promotion period for travel until October 15.
Air India said that flights from Dubai will cost Dh330. Currently, a flight to India will cost up to Dh500, depending on the destination.
“We have seen heavy demand on Day 1 itself of the promotion and that’s a very positive sign,” said Singh.
For now, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is helping Air India big. “Since the start of normal scheduled operations from India in March, we have seen high demand for the Boeing 787 Dreamliners on all India-Dubai routes,” said Singh.
The airline is operating 69 weekly flights to Dubai and of these 35 are Dreamliners. This is seen as a move by Air India to increase its market share in the highly lucrative Gulf market by offering upgraded on-board services and newer aircraft. The Dreamliner offer more legroom and are generally more comfortable than, say, the likes of Airbus A320.
The load factors for the Boeing aircraft are showing steady growth on a month-on-month basis and is at over 85 per cent, said Singh. “Although passenger numbers have surpassed 2021 levels, they are yet to return to the pre-pandemic normality.”
Air India’s overall passenger number on the route for April-July was just marginally lower than pre-pandemic levels, said Singh. “We see a very healthy recovery and upcoming events such as the Asia Cup cricket tournament will be positive for the travel industry in general.”
Ready for winter spike
“The winter season is looking promising - we expect yields to be better than current levels and passenger volumes, which have seen a steady rise since the lifting of restrictions in March, will soon reach 96-97 per cent of pre-Covid levels,” he added.