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The new Air India will need a game plan for new competition

Qantas aircraft were arriving in India at regular intervals since the pandemic began for repatriation flights.

November 22, 2021 / 01:36 PM IST

Australia has been behind closed doors since the pandemic began. So much so that one could have referred to it as the Iron Curtain, as countries under the influence of the USSR during the cold war used to be known! Australia had plans of sending citizens to jail if they came in from countries that were termed too risky to travel!

But many countries moved away from their Zero COVID-19  strategy because the end of the pandemic was nowhere around the horizon and the economic impact was becoming more and more challenging. While the country may not be open for everybody just yet, it is gradually opening up for vaccinated passengers under certain categories of visas and this has had an unlikely fallout! Qantas. the largest Australian carrier airline has announced the launch of services to Delhi from Sydney and Melbourne. This comes within days of Air India reinstating flights to Australia from India.

Qantas operated flights to Mumbai in 2009 before it was axed for a multitude of reasons. Prior attempts to fly to Mumbai via Singapore were unsuccessful. But times have changed since the pandemic began and new routes - for either repatriation of stranded passengers or regular services, have opened up, both in the domestic market and the international ones.

Sydney and Melbourne to India

Qantas aircraft were arriving in India at regular intervals since the pandemic began for repatriation flights. Now the airline will be back as scheduled service, a first since it dropped its India network in 2009.

Close

Fights from Sydney to Delhi will be launched on December 6, 2021, and will start operating three times a week, scaling up to daily in January 2022. The airline is contemplating making this a year-round operation based on the response. Flights from Sydney to Delhi will have a technical stop at Darwin while the return flight will be non-stop.

Flights from Melbourne to Delhi will be launched from December 22, 2021, and operate four times a week.  The flight will operate via Adelaide while the return flight from Delhi to Melbourne will fly non-stop. For now, the airline will accept bookings until March 2022 and could look at the situation to decide on the extension in the summer schedule.

Equipment and why the stop

WInter times in the northern hemisphere have severe headwinds flying from South/East to North. One can experience the same headwinds while flying from Guwahati to Delhi as well. On longer routes, the impact is much more! This makes the Sydney / Melbourne to Delhi route a challenging one and needs a stop while the return can be non-stop owing to tailwinds. The stop would not be necessary from March onwards when the wind patterns aren’t this extreme.

The airline is deploying its A330-300 aircraft in this sector and it comes with 28 seats in business class and 269 in the economy class. The airline also has B787-9s in its fleet, which are capable of flying longer. However, as the airline expands -- it has a shortage of B787-9s which are already flying to London -- amongst other destinations. The additional aircraft on order are stuck due to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clearances being awaited for starting delivery of B787s as Boeing continues to struggle with defect after defect with the aircraft.

What it means for Air India

Australia has selectively opened up, which means Indian citizens are not freely welcome. However, under the repatriation mission of India, operated primarily by Air India and called the Vande Bharat MIssion, Air India has been operating flights to Australia selectively all along with the pandemic. The airline re-launched services to Australia after a brief hiatus from November 15, 2021, flying to Sydney, to begin with.

Air India re-launched flights to Australia after two decades in 2013. The airline initially operated a triangular service as Delhi - Sydney - Melbourne - Delhi on a few days and the other way round on other days of the week, before de-linking the services and operating Delhi - Sydney and Delhi - Melbourne as non-stop terminator flights.

Since then the airline has maintained a steady presence in Australia, until the pandemic. This has meant that the airline has developed the non-stop market from scratch and just when it was time to reap the benefits came the pandemic and now the competition to share the benefits!

Air India will be handed over to the TATA’s, latest by January 2022. From a due diligence of international and domestic routes to seeing competition come up rapidly on this and many other routes, the TATA’s have very limited time to get the house in order as the situation evolves rapidly in terms of competition.

The question of the hard and soft products of Air India over the competition is also of prime concern and will take time and resources to be addressed! For Air India, under the Tata group, this means gearing up for the change, upping its ante on the product and service side as well as ensuring that competition is kept at bay - all of which is going to be a tall order.
Ameya Joshi runs the aviation analysis website Network Thoughts.
first published: Nov 22, 2021 01:36 pm
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