Asserting that India deserves to have international non-stop connectivity to more destinations, Air India chief Campbell Wilson has said the country has in some respect not been able to control its own destiny as a consequence of not having a healthy domestic airline industry. Wilson, who is piloting Air India’s massive expansion plans in terms of fleet as well as routes, also said that IndiGo succeeding well and Tata airlines coming together provides a good competitor to the strength of IndiGo.
“It should hopefully allow for a market that is more sustainable, ideally profitable that will allow airlines to invest in new products, expand network and also lead India to assume its place on the world aviation stage…,” he told PTI in a recent interview. Tata Group took over Air India and Air India Express from the government in January last year. Currently, the group has four carriers under its fold — Air India, Air India Express, AIX Connect (earlier known as AirAsia India) and Vistara, a joint venture with Singapore Airlines.
The group is also in the process of merging Air India Express and AIX Connect, and Vistara with Air India. Responding to a query about the crisis at Go First, Wilson said it is very unfortunate. Cash-strapped budget carrier Go First stopped flying from May 3 and is undergoing voluntary insolvency resolution proceedings. This is not the first time that an airline has failed in the country and “it does I think underscore the industry structure that has prevailed has not been conducive for a healthy, vibrant, profitable industry”, the Air India CEO and Managing Director said.
“As a consequence of not having a healthy domestic airline industry, India has in some respects is not able to control its own destiny. Some foreign airlines coming into India have been the ones that have reaped the benefits of the growing Indian market as opposed to the Indian airlines. “We continue to make sure that we put in the investments in aircraft, products, people and systems. We will have a significantly sized, professionally run, expansion-oriented high quality airline,” Wilson said. He also said that Air India is investing USD 70 billion at list price for 470 new aircraft and that is with the explicit purpose of providing more services, especially international connectivity.
As Air India flies to more places non-stop from India and also builds a hub, then hopefully, the airline will catalyse further broader development of the country’s aviation industry. “That will be good for all the parties and not just the airline itself,” he noted. While travel demand is on the rise, India has relatively less direct international air connectivity and overseas traffic is catered to mostly by foreign carriers with connecting flights. Against this backdrop, the government is working on developing an international aviation hub in the country while Air India and IndiGo are also expanding their international operations.
“Our view is that India deserves to have international non-stop connectivity to many more destinations in the world than presently is the case. “In order to do that, it will require investments in aircraft, systems, and people by Indian carriers. That investment comes with economic incentives and other incentives. So building the environment to make such investments attractive to the people and such investments successful, at least in my view, is in the national interest,” Wilson said.
When asked about India being hesitant to allow more bilateral flying rights to foreign carriers, Wilson said that for whatever reason, India did not have a strong home carrier to announce non-stop services to the points that people wanted to fly to and from. “In the absence of that, people were served by airlines hubbing in different places around India. Now, there are two airlines in India with the capacity and ambition to expand non-stop services, it is only right that they be given time to demonstrate that the intent is matched by action,” he emphasised. India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world.
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