Air India looking for a hub in Europe

Now that Air India's (AI) merger with Indian is all but final, the state-owned Indian carrier wants to create a hub in Europe, so that it can and optimise its network and provide more direct services. Ever since its private competitor Jet Airways established an operational hub at Brussels, in Belgium, Air India has been in talks with aviation authorities in major European cities to site its own hub.

The carrier flies to several European cities like Frankfurt, London, Paris and Birmingham. "We are now looking at other cities which can become our hub," Air India chairman and managing director V Thulasidas says, indicating the new hub could be operational by next year. Thulasidas will head the merged state-owned carrier.

Five to six daily flights would arrive at the European hub from different parts of India and the passengers transferred to other Air India planes bound for destinations beyond, so that AI can serve a much larger network of European cities cost effectively. But the existing flights that the airline is operating to main European gateway cities will continue, maybe even increase in frequency.

However, these operations would take two or three years to fall into place, as Air India's new Boeing long-haul aircraft are delivered. The hub-and-spoke system provides economies of scale, and most large airlines use it. At a hub, an airline can pick up, for example, passengers travelling from several European cities who fly into the hub on short flights from their respective cities, and are then transferred to a large long-haul aircraft and flown to India.

Thulasidas said that following the merger, all Indian and Air India flights, both international and domestic sectors, would be optimised. Frequencies will be decided depending on the demand, and curtailments on certain sectors cannot be ruled out.
"We will improve timings and frequencies, avoid hopping flights and maximise point-to-point services," he said. Also, expect more international flights to start from cities like Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Amritsar and Ahmedabad, Thulasidas indicated.

Cutting unnecessary stops is another priority. For example, once Air India launches its direct Mumbai-Newark service, the present Mumbai-Delhi-London-New York flight will start from Delhi, eliminating one stop. While the Mumbai-Newark flight will start on 1 August, another Delhi-New York direct flight will start this winter. The proposed Mumbai-Chicago service has been scrapped, and will likely be replaced by a Bangalore-San Fransisco flight.