By Disha Kanwar
Air India’s first of the 27 Dreamliners finally touched down at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport today after a long-drawn dispute between Air India and Boeing over compensation for a four-year production delay.
The reception of the Dreamliner was in Maharaja-style, with Air India and the ministry’s officials waiting for its landing.
A ladder full of marigold flowers was at the tarmac soon after.The pilots descended and waved from the door to the crowd gathered to witness the moment.
Spectators tried to capture the moment through cameras and mobiles. The Dreamliner was saluted with a traditional water cannon welcome as it came to a halt on the tarmac.
Coconut salute as well
There was also a traditional Indian welcome. The entry of the new plane was marked with the breaking of a coconut with a priest presiding over the rituals.
The shining white Dreamliner was parked just beside Air India’s Boeing-777, another long-haul wide-bodied aircraft, which made it difficult to get a sense of its hugeness. They were both comparable in terms of size and design.
Among the officials present were Officer on Special Duty to the Minister Prabhat Kumar and Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director of Air India. The two didn’t give any comments to the media. A much bigger inauguration is in the pipeline next week, with the minister of civil aviation and the prime minister likely to be a part of it.
Ready since May
Three white 787s, coloured red and orange (Air India colours) were parked at the Boeing plant near Charleston, South Carolina and ready for delivery at the end of May. The delivery was held up for months while Air India and Boeing worked out a compensation settlement and waited for the Indian government officials to approve it. The amount of the compensation was not disclosed because of the confidentiality clause in their agreement.
While AI has not shared its route plans for the 27 B787 aircraft (at least three are expected this year) officially, insiders and route planners say that with its ability to fly optimally for 10 to 13 hours without refuelling and depending on the configuration of the aircraft, one destination is surely going to be Australia. According to airport data as many as 550 passengers fly from Delhi to either Sydney or Melbourne through either Singapore or Hong Kong or other destinations every day which includes a large student community. That is because there is no direct flight between the two countries.
With indirect flights taking between 22 hours to as much as 38 hours to reach cities like Melbourne from Delhi, the Dreamliner would provide an attractive alternative as well as command a premium by doing the same for only nine and a half hours.
AI is also looking at leveraging the Dreamliner to expand its limited European connectivity which is only to London, Paris and Frankfurt, a fact which helped European carriers and even Jet Airways (with a base of Brussels) to gain at their expense. Worse they are flying these routes with 777 which are long haul aircraft optimised for flying 15 hour nonstop flying and require high load factors to break even.
AI is looking at replacing them with the more fuel-efficient Dreamliners, it is also studying the potential of flying more routes like Rome, Barcelona, Madrid or Milan.
Dreamliners will also provide new opportunities, connecting India to more destinations in China like Guangzhou and replacing the 777 to Shanghai directly. Similarly, in south-east Asia it could again fly to Kuala Lumpur, which it had stopped and also connect to upcoming markets like Hong Kong, Vietnam and Philippines. And. instead of flying Tokyo on a Boeing 777 it could replace it by the more efficient Dreamliner and cash in on a growing market.
AI insiders and airport planners say new markets are also opening up in countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan where there is a lot of business traffic. And the African market provides another opportunity with Dreamliner making direct connectivity to markets like Nairobi possible.