STATE carrier Air India has now revealed it will fly from London to Ahmedabad after contentiously admitting it had no plans to directly connect the two cities.
In the latest instalment of the saga, the Indian government’s Dreamliner aircraft is set to make its debut flight from Newark in the United States to the British capital before setting off for Gujarat on August 15.
The announcement comes after Air India told Eastern Eye in February that it had no plans to operate the route despite Indian prime minister Narendra Modi promising the move during his visit to London late last year.
The airline is set to operate flights three times a week. “After this, we plan to connect two capital cities, New Delhi and Washington DC,” Ashwani Lohani, the airline’s chief said.
Previously, travellers had to disembark at Mumbai airport before completing the second leg of their journey on a connecting flight to Gujarat’s second city.
Praful Patel, India advisor to the National Congress of Gujarati Organisations (NCGO), has been putting pressure on the Indian government for the journey to be reinstated after it was pulled.
“It is not about who has made it happen, but what is important is that the NCGO with others, has been able to fulfill a need. It’s been painful to see aging retirees struggling with luggage between airports, waiting long hours or rushing for connecting flights,” he said.
Sharad Parikh, president of the NCGO, said he was pleased that the direct flight was finally ready to take off. The NCGO estimates that 14,500 passengers travel between the UK and Gujarat each year.
Air India currently operates flight services from New York, San Francisco, Newark and Chicago to New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad. The San Francisco flight, launched last December, was the airline’s first non-stop service connecting India with America’s West Coast.
Besides seeking to expand in the US market, Air India has plans to spread its wings further in Europe, where it currently flies to eight destinations including the UK, France, Germany and Italy.
As well as expanding its fleet size over the next four years, the airline is set to connect Delhi to Madrid from December.
“We have launched a number of new flights. We have already launched flights from Delhi for San Francisco and Vienna. Next year we are planning to launch five/six more, including Washington, Scandinavian countries and Africa. We are heading towards growth,” Lohani added.
Air India has ordered 27 Dreamliners and has so far received 21 planes, Six more are also said to be in the pipeline.