National carrier Air India (IATA:AI, ICAO: AIC) tweeted the launch of new flights yesterday becoming the first airline to announce expansion in 2017. The Star Alliance member will start services between Mumbai (BOM) & Chandigarh (IXC), Chandigarh & Pune (PNQ), Mumbai & Amritsar (ATQ) and Amritsar & Nanded (NDC). The new flights will be progressively effective 16th January 2017.
The flights between Mumbai – Chandigarh & Chandigarh – Pune will operate on all days except Saturday & Sunday. While the flights on Mumbai – Amritsar and Amritsar – Nanded route will operate on weekends.
While the airline said that it would induct 35 aircraft in 2017, it is unclear if new aircraft will be inducted before the start of these services or the aircraft is being freed up after 2 flights each way between Mumbai & Delhi saw equipment changed to B747.
The airline has 14 A320neo on order which it will lease from Alafco. Air India is yet to take delivery of 3 Boeing B777-300 and 5 Boeing B787 Dreamliner from its existing order. The airlines A320neo will be powered by CFM LEAP 1A26, unlike IndiGo and Go Air who have opted for PW1127 and have seen their deliveries delayed due to engine issues.
The new terminal at Chandigarh was inaugurated in September 2015, allowing expansion since the earlier terminal was constrained for parking bays and expansion of apron was not possible due to its location. The airport is operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and has limited watch hours for civilian flights. Currently IndiGo operates three frequencies on Mumbai – Chandigarh, while Jet Airways and GoAir operate two each. Air India has operated one stop flights from Mumbai to Chandigarh in the past via its hub at Delhi. These flights were delinked some time back.
Chandigarh – Pune is a virgin route and prima facie seems to have a lot of potential. Pune also has limited watch hours and is operated by IAF with a civil enclave. Pune is one of the slot controlled and constrained airports in the country.
The airline has been focusing on connecting unconnected cities to Pune as compared to other airlines which have been adding flights on the same sectors. While AirAsia India started their 2nd frequency to Bengaluru, Vistara will add 2nd flight to Delhi next week. Air India on the other hand had recently started thrice weekly service between Raipur and Pune, which offers one-stop connection to Bhopal. Air India was also the first operator to connect Pune with Goa and Dubai.
Air India’s bi-weekly flights to Amritsar from Mumbai will be the second direct connection on the sector which has daily operations from Spicejet. There has been long term demand to connect Amritsar to Nanded, two of the holiest places for Sikhs from across the world. Nanded will be a new station for the airline and also come back on the air map of the country. Air India had operated special flights to Nanded from Delhi in 2008 when 300th gurudomship of Guru Granth Sahib and 300th death anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh were held at Hazoor Sahib, Nanded.
Kingfisher Airlines had started operations to Nanded, connecting it with Mumbai and Latur, after the airport saw expansion in 2008. Go Air followed with A320 service connecting Mumbai, Nagpur and Delhi (via Nagpur). Spicejet was the last carrier to operate flights to Nanded connecting Delhi via Aurangabad and having direct flights to Mumbai.
The flights on Mumbai – Amritsar and Amritsar – Nanded have not been open for sale while sale for the flights to Chandigarh is now open.
AI813 IXC1050 – 1320PNQ x67
AI814 PNQ1400 – 1630IXC x67
AI641 BOM0720 – 1000IXC x67
AI642 IXC1745 – 2010BOM x67
Wholly owned subsidiary, Air India Regional had recently started flights to Kanpur and Bhatinda from Delhi. (Air India launches Kanpur & Bhatinda in quick succession)