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How the Maharajah is selling a dream

Last updated on: October 3, 2012 14:19 IST

How the Maharajah is selling a dream

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Aneesh Phadnis and Viveat Susan Pinto in Mumbai

Boeing's Dreamliner is here and the hard-sell has begun.

Newspaper readers were in for a surprise last week when they saw prominent ads released by national carrier Air India inviting corporate executives to consider flying the airline since the Dreamliner was now part of its fleet.

The focus was on the young corporate flier who would otherwise consider other airlines (read private) as his preferred mode of transport.

But Air India officials say they knew exactly who they were targetting and why.

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Image: Air India's Dreamliner Boeing 787 is given a traditional water cannon salute by the fire tenders upon its arrival at the airport in New Delhi.
Photographs: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters

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"Our strategy is to remind corporate travellers of our product advantages," says a senior Air India official.

"Plus we have been successful with our Jaldi Jaldi discount scheme.

"We carried out dipstick surveys in metros and found that newspaper readers do associate with the term Jaldi Jaldi (or fast) with Air India.

"It made sense then to consider newspaper ads. And you will see three more such advertisements in the coming days targeting corporate travellers," he says.

Air India's attention to detail is not without reason.

After a long time, the national carrier has something to cheer about.

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Image: Interior view of the Dreamliner.
Photographs: Courtesy, Boeing.

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"With its sophisticated, futuristic designs, Air India's B787 Dreamliner is the most advanced aircraft in the sky, with wing, nose, tail and flight deck windows having been engineered for maximum aerodynamic efficiency among others," a release from Air India said on September 19, when the Dreamliner made its first flight from New Delhi to Chennai.

The flying machine was greeted with a water cannon salute accompanied by traditional pujas on arrival -- signifying just how important the Boeing 787 was to Air India's scheme of things.

Without doubt it is an important part of Air India's turnaround," says Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer, South Asia, Centre for Asia Pacific, a body that tracks the aviation industry in India and neigbouring countries providing analyses and trends.

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Image: Dreamliner's interiors.
Photographs: Courtesy, Boeing

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"If they get it right now, well and good, if they don't, I fear it may be difficult for them to bounce back. This is a critical year for them," he says.

After crippling strikes, flight cancellations, losses and mounting debt, 2012-13 has brought some ray of hope for the airline.

Aviation industry experts say that Air lndia has actually brought down its losses during the April to July period this year by Rs 557 crore (Rs 5.57 billion) by cutting costs and increasing revenues especially from domestic operations.

This comes after the government approved to recast Rs 22,000-crore (Rs 220-billion) debt on Air India's books earlier this year. Air India's total outstanding loans and dues are in the region of Rs 67,250 crore (Rs 672.5 bullion).

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Image: Dreamliner's cockpit.
Photographs: Courtesy, Boeing

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According to persons in the know, the carrier, which was founded in 1932 by J R D Tata, subsequently getting acquired by the government of India in 1953, is now making all efforts to win back passengers following a diktat by Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh to increase its share.

Air India's position in the domestic pecking order is down to number four from a time when it was among the top three airlines in the country.

While Air India appears to be working hard to salvage its reputation, some brand experts have their doubts whether the focus on the Dreamliner alone will help save the Maharaja.

"The Dreamliner is an excellent piece of hardware.

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Photographs: Reuters

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"There is no doubt in my mind about it. But the fact remains that an airline is not about the hardware alone, but also the software," says Harish Bijoor, chief executive officer, Harish Bijoor Consults.

"In my view the real brand task is to build reliability and trust. Get your act together as far as service levels and credibility is concerned and then promote the Dreamliner."

Jitendra Bhargava, Air India's retired executive director, says, " If Air India is trying to create a brand image on the basis of two Boeing 787s then it is clearly insufficient.

"An airline's product and service has to be consistent across the entire fleet."

Anmol Dhar, managing director, Superbrands India, says, "Certainly, there is no denying the importance of the Dreamliner to Air India, but if they can get the quality of service right too, it will help the carrier reclaim lost glory."

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Image: Air India mascot, Maharajah.
Photographs: Rediff Archives

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Bhargava believes that running a brand-building campaign right after flight cancellations in Kerala may not be a great idea.

He also questions the timing of the discount fares scheme.

"The brand building campaign has come when Air India has launched a super saver scheme promising discounted fares.

"You don't sell a quality product by discounting fares. Plus there were a flood of complaints following flight cancellations on the Kerala-Gulf route last week. You can't build a product when schedule integrity is not maintained," he says.

Industry experts say that the probability that fliers may take the Dreamliner purely for the novelty factor remains high.

Even then, the national carrier remains optimistic.


Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

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