Air India is set to begin flights between New Delhi and Birmingham within the next couple of months, a source at the Indian national carrier revealed to The HUB last week. In fact on June 22, 2013, the carrier opened reservations for the new link but temporary closed them again from June 24, 2013 before re-opening sales from June 26, 2013. An official announcement on the formal launch of the route is expected as early as this week.
Following the arrival of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners the carrier has been analysing a number of markets for network growth over the past year and now the aircraft has returned to service following its short-term grounding, the airline source says the carrier is now prepared to push ahead with its expansion and Birmingham will be one of three or four new long-haul destinations to be introduced by the end of 2014.
Air India plans to operate the route on a four times weekly basis using one of its expanding fleet of 787s. The outbound flight, ‘AI113’, is planned to leave New Delhi at 13:30, arriving at Birmingham at 18:00. The return service, ‘AI114’, is due to depart the Midlands’ city at 21:30, arriving back in the Indian capital at 10:05 the following day. A previous schedule to promote the flight had used the codes 'AI150' and 'AI151' and had slightly different operational times to the service.
Air India is currently the only operator of the 787 in the Indian sub-continent having taken delivery of its first aircraft in September 2012. It now has six aircraft in service, with 21 more on order. According to the airline source final discussions are now taking place with suppliers and agents, with August 1, 2013 set as the launch date.
It was at Routes Asia earlier this year that it became clear that Air India was on the expansion path. Speaking at the event in Mumbai, India in March 2013, Deepak Brara, Commercial Director, Air India confirmed that the carrier was confident that upon the type’s return to service it would be in a position to announce new markets. “We are looking to add new flights to a number of new markets in the coming years. These include destinations in Australia, Italy, the US and a second stop in the UK,” he revealed.
“We have a huge home market so we have the scope to develop without having to worry about serving transfer traffic. As a result we will not really focus on sixth freedom markets in the coming years but simply serving strong O&D markets,” he added.
With existing flights to London Heathrow, the new UK market for Air India was thought to be a direct competition between Birmingham and Manchester but with a growth strategy based on origin and destination markets and the continued development of New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport as it primary international hub, Birmingham appears to have secured the route.
According to census information, approximately 65,000 people of Indian origin live within Birmingham and its immediate suburbs. When you also include the notable levels of Indians across the Midlands and most notably in the cities of Coventry and Leicester you can understand why Birmingham would appeal to the Indian carrier. The census data suggests an Indian population of around 185,000 across the West Midlands County and 218,000 across the wider West Midlands region. These figures show that outside of London, the West Midlands has more Indians living within it than any other region in England.
"We have had confirmation from Air India that they plan to start flights between Birmingham and New Delhi in August,” confirmed an airport spokesperson. “We hope to be able to make an announcement in the very near future.”
This will mark the return of Air India to the Birmingham market. The carrier most recently offered flights to the city in the 2000s, offering links from May 2005 on the Amritsar – Birmingham – Toronto route. However, it suspended the service in October 2008 as it centralised its UK flight operations at London Heathrow, driven by the release of lucrative slots at the international airport following the introduction of 777-200LR equipment into the fleet. Due to its flight envelope, the 777 removed the need for the carrier’s onward connections to the US from the UK capital as destinations in North America could now be served directly from India.
Although no other airline has entered this market with non-stop flights following the switch, a number of operators have attempted to tap into the significant demand between Birmingham and India, operating flights with an en route stopover to bypass traffic restrictions. According to MIDT data, up to 230,000 bi-directional O&D passengers fly between Birmingham and destinations across India each year with additional traffic leaking to the London airports by ground transport. In 2012, an estimated 153,000 passengers flew between Birmingham and India, with around 50,000 flying to or from New Delhi, the largest point-to-point market. Emirates Airline holds the largest share of this traffic (72.8 per cent) via its Dubai International Airport hub.