Thursday, April 14, 2011

Air India closes in on European hub

Neelam Mathews
April 14, 2011
Time: 12:51AM IST

Even as Air India comes closer to joining Star Alliance in July, it has identified four airports in Europe for its hub for onward flights to Europe and the U.S.

The decision is expected in the April/May time frame, Arvind Jadhav, Chairman and Managing Director, Air India, told Aerospace Diary.

Jadhav said the carrier was viewing the most northernmost to the southernmost (airports for its hub) in Europe.

"Air India needs a European hub as its direct North American routes are not paying, not least because they are using fuel to carry fuel,” an airline official says.

Copenhagen, Dublin, Birmingham and Madrid are the contenders to Air India’s business, Aerospace Diary learns. Of these, only Copenhagen has a Star member –SAS Scandanavian Airlines - using the airport as its hub. Jadhav indicated he was clear that it would be economics that ruled his decision on the choice of the hub.

“We need to hub over Europe with some 50 flights…once I tie up, I do not need any surprises,” says Jadhav.

Dublin has been wooing the airline intensively and is on the radar screen. Its Minister for Transport met aviation minister Vayalar Ravi in Delhi on March 17. Another delegation from the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India is expected to visit Dublin soon. 

“Dublin has the enormous advantage of US Customs and Border Immigration. It is all cleared after check-in by U.S immigration and customs officers while you are waiting for your plane. There are no formalities at the U.S end. Dublin is the only European airport to have this facility,” says Ken Thompson, Ambassador, Embassy of Ireland in India.

“As an airline I want the airport to give me a seamless product and transparency,” says Jadhav. “Airports need to understand their core processes. If the experience for passengers is poor, for instance at the boarding gate…….we will shift if not given what we were promised,” he cautions.

Air India has been offered its own facilities at the new terminal in Dublin airport, arrival hall, carousel, etc says Thompson. Goodies are also on offer. All Indians traveling to the U.S and wish to stop off in Ireland, will be given three day visas for Ireland on arrival, just on the basis of their U.S visa.

Meanwhile, Madrid, another airport in the fray, is too southerly unless Air India wants to service Latin America or connect with airlines going there. And the skies over Birmingham are too congested, says an aviation analyst.

Air India moved away from Frankfurt that was its European hub last year. “We were termed coming from the East to West and had to arrive from the East and depart from the West. Every passenger had to walk for one km…..our product disintegrated….we ended up losing 40-50million euros annually. This was despite the fact that Fraport gave us their best deal….Today we have a surplus of one million euros monthly…Customers will drive the airline to move,” said Jadhav.

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