In independent India, from day one Air India has been beset with glitches, which are mostly of its own making. The company was nationalized during the British rule. After a year India became independent, but the slavish and lackadaisical mindset of its politically appointed high level management has not changed even sixty two years after independence. The airline treats the Indian passengers with utter disregard, but it treats the European and North American white skinned passengers with almost slavish subjugation. This company is hardly run on real professional lines, the routes are picked up whimsically showing total disregard to the profitability and business sense. The most profitable routes are callously sacrificed due to a non business savvy attitude of the top management.
For example on account of the heavy concentration of expatriate Gujarati population since nineteen sixties in areas around London and New York- New Jersey area, the Ahmedabad London and Ahmedabad New York flights can be highly profitable to operate. Even a lay man knows about this. But Air India’s top management prefers to fly on the Bombay London and Bombay New York routes, thus severely inconveniencing the Ahmedabad bound passengers. This is indicactive of faulty business attitude. The passengers, after disembarking at the Bombay International Airport, are made to either proceed by road to Surat, Baroda and Ahmedabad, or they are put on local flights to Ahmedabad and from Ahmedabad they proceed to other destinations like Baroda and Surat.
Air India knows it rather well that there are more than half a million expatriate Punjabis living in the areas around Bermingham in England. During the nineteen seventies due to persistent demand from the Punjabi community in India and the United Kingdom, an air service was started between Amritsar and Bermingham. The direct flying time between the two cities during those days was ten hours from Amritsar to Berminghan and nine hours from Bermingham to Amritsar owing to the direction of the tail winds. The most profit oriented business practice demands completion of the round trip flight within twenty four hours. But in order to render this route less profitable, Air India originated the flight from New Delhi and added another stop over in Kabul. This did not result in more income.
A simple ten hour flight was stretched to sixteen hours, which made it impossible to complete the round trip within twenty four hours. The travel fare from New Delhi to Barmingham and from Amritsar to Barmingham was the same. Because of that it was a lot better to fly directly from Amritsar to Barmingham. On account of the additional stop-over at Kabul, some passengers used to disembark at Kabul, but from Kabul there were hardly any passengers for Barmingham, so the plane used to fly from Kabul with a few empty seats. This resulted in some loss of revenue. The New Delhi Amritsar Kabul Barmingham flight, in spite of its long duration was still considered profitable. But during the mid eighties even this flight was cancelled due to reasons of ongoing insurgency in Punjab.
When Amritsar Bermingham flights were reinstated in 2007, the new flights were made to originate from New Delhi. This resulted in further wastage of time. The addition of Toronto to this flight was of course a very wise decision. But when this flight started minting money, the decision to skip Barmingham in favour of London was taken. If that was so, the best alternative should have been to start a daily independent roundtrip service from Amritsar to Bermingham, which can be completed in twenty four hours. This flight can generate more money than the Middle East bound flights, which are at present considered to be most profitable.
The daily two hop Amritsar London Toronto operation of Air India is currently one of the most profitable routes operated by this company. But in order to make the matters more murky, now there will be only four flights originating from Amritsar, the other three will originate from New Delhi. I am asking a very simple question, why mess up with a highly profitable operation, why can’t we leave it as it is?
Every one knows that there are more Punjabis living in the Province of British Columbia in Canada than in the Province of Ontario. Moreover the long settled Vancouver based Punjabis are financially a lot better off than Punjabis living in the Province of Ontario, but still it does not occur to Air India that it should start aviation operations from Vancouver to Amritsar. Air India appears to be rigidly wedded to the idea of flying to North America via Europe. As far as New York, Washington D.C., Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago are concerned, it is totally justified to fly via Europe, but for the mega cities based on the West Coast, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, it is a lot more convenient and less time consuming to fly via China, South Korea or Japan. Air India can either fly directly via the North Pole to Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles using Boeing 777-200 long range aircraft, or if it wants to use other planes, it can fly to these destinations via Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai or Tokyo.
These days at least eight hundred passengers leave from the Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton regions every day for destinations in Punjab. There Punjabi destinations can be best served by Amritsar International Airport, but due to non existence of flights by any of the major European airlines to Amritsar International Airport, all these Punjab bound passengers end up landing at New Delhi International Airport. From New Delhi, they have to undertake an arduous eight hour long journey to the villages and towns in Jalandhar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, Moga, Ludhiana, Kapurthala, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur Ferozepore and Tarn Taran. Air India can easily help these folks by making their journeys shorter in time and more comfortable otherwise, but sadly Air India does not think innovatively and for the betterment of the long haul passengers. Air India’s Amritsar-Vancouver operation will easily be its most profitable route.
There are in excess of two hundred thousand I.T. experts hailing from Bangalore, who are living and working in San Francisco (Silicon Valley) area. Similarly there are roughly two hundred thousand wealthy Sikh farmers and other entrepreneurs from Punjab living within a radius of two hundred miles around San Francisco. A daily Air India flight can be introduced between Bangalore Amritsar and San Francisco, but such a lucrative idea is not on the radar screens of the big bosses within the management of Air India. Air India’s top management comes from the, politically well connected IAS cadres, these folks are at best generalists and not business administrators with experience in economic management of civil aviation. They should pick and choose routes which can be either half completed or fully completed within eighteen to twenty hours. That absorbs minor delays.
A couple of years ago, Air India introduced service on the Bombay Los Angeles route. Later on New Delhi was also added as the second origination point to the Los Angeles operation. On paper, of course it appears to be a highly prestigious route, but for Air India, it is an impossible route to fly via Europe. Air India takes ten hours to fly from Bombay to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt the plane takes eleven hours to fly to Los Angeles. This means a flying time of twenty one hours. With a stop over of two hours at Frankfurt, the flight takes a total of twenty three hours to reach Los Angeles. For a company, which is notorious for flying late, it becomes impossible to stick to a twenty four hour schedule for the completion of one way journey. Once you miss the twenty four hour cycle, every flight keeps getting later and later, unless there are spare planes available to break the cycles of recurring delays. As a result of persistent cumulative delays, the airline can not operate the flight on time. This was the main reason for the abrupt cancellation of this much publicized longest distance flight. The best alternative should have been to fly using the North East Asian corridor, which they never even thought of.
According to my research in America, if an aircraft can comfortably complete an eight to ten thousand mile single way of round trip journey in eighteen to twenty hours and the plane is eighty percent full, that can always be a financially viable operation. Air India’s Bombay Frankfurt Los Angeles and New Delhi Frankfurt Los Angeles flights exceeded the ten thousand mile limit as well as eighteen to twenty hours flying time limit. Using the same route even the Bombay Frankfurt San Francisco flight as well as the New Delhi Frankfurt San Francisco flights can be an equally hefty disaster. For these two important destinations as well as Vancouver on the West Coast of America and Canada, Air India needs to take the either the direct North Polar route or they have to fly via Japan, South Korea or China. To our bad luck Air India has so far been totally inert to this business savvy idea. As a result India is losing a very lucrative market and the Indian diaspora is suffering due to non-existence of a direct point to point flight. .
At the present juncture, the rigid mindset of Air India prefers to operate only from Bombay and New Delhi airports. Some other smaller airports may be and in fact are far more profitable, but they do not impress the people in power in Air India. The Bermingham Amritsar ten thousand mile round trip can be completed within twenty four hours and the flights are likely to be at least eighty percent full, but Air India unfortunately is oblivious to this potentially great route. If the attitude of the top management of Air India is not going to change pretty soon, it will find itself in a hot soup from which even the government may not be tempted to rescue this airline. The bureaucracy and the politicians of India want to enjoy the freebees provided by Air India, but in the process they are bleeding the milk cow white. Such a self destructive situation can not and should not be allowed to continue indefinitely. A solution has to be found before it is too late for India’s flag carrier.