May 11, 2011
Time: 6;07pm IST
Even as Air India commits to joining Star Alliance with an announcement expected to made soon, a review meeting held in Dubai on April 20, presided by aviation minister Vayalar Ravi, made an "in principle" decision to set up an engineering base in Dubai.
“Given some 200 flights a week to the Middle East, Dubai was found to be the ideal base for flights from Mumbai and Trivandrum,” says a spokesman. Since Air India Express flies primarily to the region, it is expected the engineering base will be exclusively for the Boeing 737s the carrier flies.
Meanwhile, even as Star Alliance CEO Jaan Albrecht told a trade publication that Air India has until July 31 to join the alliance or the carrier's invitation will be withdrawn, an Air India official told Aerospace Diary: “There is no issue of an ultimatum being given…This is not a divorce proceeding…We are preparing for the big event and expect the date to be announced soon.” He indicated the event would be held “much before July 31".
Star Alliance officials have openly voiced concerns in the past on the delay caused in Air India’s joining the alliance. It has been four years since the invite was given to Air India by Lufthansa in Shanghai.There has been a worry that competitor Emirates has been gaining ground in the Indian market carrying passengers heading to Europe and the U.S. “This is hurting us,” a senior official in Lufthansa had told Aerospace Diary candidly last year.
An official however says, things are changing and there is a rush to meet the deadline. While major requirements to join the alliance have been “signed off”, there is marketing to be done to align the carrier with Star, signages to be updated and aircraft painted with the Star logo. ”Mumbai airport is actively involved ......,” says an official there.
There is also Jet Airways in the shadow. Once Air India joins the alliance, it is likely Jet will join as a member, but without voting rights. “This will appease the national carrier,” an analyst says.