Air India has expanded its international operations with the launch of two daily flights from Mumbai and Delhi to New York and Chicago via Frankfurt and opened a European hub at the Frankfurt airport.
India's national air carrier's new US-bound flights, which left Mumbai and Delhi on Saturday night, in accordance with the airline's new summer schedule, landed at the Frankfurt Airport on Sunday morning and continued their journey to New York (Newark) and Chicago after transferring their passengers travelling to different destinations in the US and Europe.
Shortly afterwards, flights from New York and Chicago stopped over at Frankfurt to enable passengers to board connecting flights for Mumbai and Delhi.
The carrier's new services to the US and Europe and the opening of its operational hub for west-bound flights in Frankfurt are part of a major initiative to strengthen the airline's global network by acquiring new aircraft, adding new routes and increasing the frequency of existing routes, Air India regional manager for Central Europe Ratan Bali said.
The launch of the new services doubles the total number of Air India's flights operating from Frankfurt to 28. This will be raised to 35 when Air India launches another daily service between Frankfurt and Ahmedabad, possibly in June, he said.
Air India has the possibility to operate up to 69 flights a week to Germany under a bilateral civil aviation agreement signed recently by the two countries.
Air India's code-sharing arrangements with Lufthansa will make it possible for its passengers to get convenient connections on the German airline's flights to destinations within Germany, Europe and the US via the Frankfurt hub.
Given Air India's reach in India and Lufthansa's connectivity, we will have the maximum reach in India and in Europe. "This will make Air India a major player in the European market," Bali told PTI in an interview.
Air India's possibility to become a member of the Star Alliance, the consortium of 21 carriers across the globe, led by Lufthansa, will give further boost to its competitiveness and help expand its global reach.
The company was invited to join the Star Alliance following its merger with the Indian Airlines in 2007 and its rapid fleet expansion by acquiring a range of modern Boeing and Airbus aircraft.
If it becomes a member, it could benefit from an integrated network, common terminals, code sharing, access to airport lounges worldwide for its passengers and an expansion of the frequent flyer programme. A decision on Air India's membership is expected by the end of this year.
Air India is pressing ahead with its expansion plans in spite of the global economic downturn and slump in air travel because it is confident that the resilience of the Indian economy will enable the country's travel and tourism industry to bounce back to the growth path of the past years, he said.
The airline is optimistic that the steadily growing business opportunities in India and the country's continuing attractiveness as a tourist destination will contribute to increased air travel to and from India.
Air India's passengers from Mumbai and Delhi will get seamless transfer at the Frankfurt Airport to continue their journey to New York and Chicago, Bali said. The flights to New York and Chicago and back have been planned in such a way that they will provide convenient departure and arrival timings and fastest connectivity between India and the US.
While planning the new flights, the airlines also sought to ensure that feeder flights from cities such as Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad provide direct connectivity to flights bound for Frankfurt, New York and Chicago and vice versa.
Bali expressed the hope that Air India would be able to join the Star Alliance by the end of this year or early next year. A membership of the Star Alliance will give Air India full international reach, Bali said.
The Star Alliance offers 16,500 daily departures to 912 destinations in 159 countries.