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KLM has really BIG plans for India

By Aneesh Phadnis
May 05, 2017 09:26 IST
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Together with Jet Airways we will have 61 flights to Amsterdam and Paris during the winter season. That also makes us the second largest airline group after Lufthansa, which has 67 weekly flights, and we are catching up to become the first, says KLM CEO Pieter Elbers.

Dutch cheese displayed in a shop window in Edam, near Amsterdam, Netherlands, February 10, 2017. Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

IMAGE: KLM together with Jet has 61 flights in winter to Amsterdam, the capital of cheese and Paris. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters.

KLM, a part of one of the largest airlines in Europe, is looking to increase its presence in India.

It plans to launch a new flight to Mumbai and enhance cargo co-operation within the country.

At present, the airline, which is a part of the Air France-KLM group, operated in a limited capacity and faces intense competition from airlines based in Europe and the Gulf.
We hear KLM plans to resume its Amsterdam-Mumbai service after nearly 20 years. Can you share details?
We are seriously considering launching a flight to Mumbai but it is not confirmed yet.

There has been an enormous growth of business and relations between India and the Netherlands. We have moved from having no connection between Amsterdam-Mumbai to a daily service by Jet Airways. Moreover, the Airbus A330 aircraft, which had a capacity to accommodate 254 to 293 passengers, was upgraded to a Boeing 777 aircraft with 346 seats in six months' time.
Pieter Elbers, CEO KLM Airlines. Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters

IMAGE: "Together with Jet Airways... (we are) stepping up our presence in the market. (With 61 flights) that also makes us the second largest airline group after Lufthansa, which has 67 weekly flights. We are catching up to become the first," says Pieter Elbers, CEO, KLM Airlines. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters.

How are your relations with Jet Airways shaping up? Does the partnership with Jet Airways allow you to bridge the gap with Lufthansa, which is the largest European airline group in India?
Our strategy is to have a strong local partner in a country where we operate.

Until now, the Air France-KLM group had three destinations in India including Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. With Jet Airways launching flights between Paris and Chennai in winter, we will have a fourth destination and Bengaluru will be connected to both Paris and Amsterdam.

Together with Jet Airways, we will have 61 flights to Amsterdam and Paris during the winter season, thereby stepping up our presence in the market. That also makes us the second largest airline group after Lufthansa, which has 67 weekly flights, and we are catching up to become the first.

Our strategy is to connect the networks and passengers from tier II towns in India can travel to tier II towns in the US via Amsterdam. This is a win-win situation for the Air France-KLM group as well as the Jet Airways.
Is Air France-KLM expanding co-operation with Jet Airways to other areas such as cargo and aircraft maintenance?
We are exploring a partnership with Jet in cargo. We think we have a good opportunity with increasing trade between India and Europe. A Boeing 777 aircraft has 15 to 17 tonnes of cargo capacity. We are exploring all opportunities involving, cross selling, sharing of aircraft belly space and cargo handling with Jet.

We do have some co-operation on engineering but it is relatively on a small scale and there could be an opportunity to further it.
Last year Jet Airways signed an MoU to enter into a commercial joint venture pact with Air France-KLM. What is the status of the proposed JV?
We have put in a lot of effort to ensure daily operations work well. It is important for our customers to have a seamless connection and a smooth transfer at hubs.

The way we conduct financial settlements among airlines is not relevant for customers. For customers, it is relevant that they have good products and a seamless service.

A JV is always a point on the horizon and at some point, it could happen. But if we look at the most successful and enhanced partnership like the one we have with Delta Airlines, it took us years for us to come to that point.

Personally, I prefer to make sure everything is good for customers first and then take steps on financial settlements and JVs.
How is your relation with Etihad and other Gulf airlines? Do you see them as partners or adversaries?
We do have co-operation with Etihad. We do have code shares between our hub and Abu Dhabi. We have partnership with Etihad and  we are competing with Qatar Airways and Emirates.
Airlines are now looking for partners outside their alliances. Is that going to be a new trend?
If you look at our code-sharing agreements, we have such pacts with Delta, China Southern, China Eastern, Kenya Airways (all Sky Team members). Our partnerships are with the core members of the Sky Team. There are a few exceptions and every airline has a few exceptions. I would not put it as a new trend.

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Aneesh Phadnis
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