Delayed ticket to Oz makes AI lose out on winter traffic

After a series of flip flops, state-owned Air India has been granted permission to fly to Melbourne by civil aviation ministry recently, sources in the airline said. However, delays in granting route clearance has dented the timing and thrown a wet blanket over the carrier's marketing strategy, claimed airline sources. "The ministry has approved the route too late in the day. And we have already missed the peak winter season," said an airline source.

Any route needs at least three months' time to be logged into the Global Distibution Systems which markets it and sells the tickets. "Typically, international leisure travel is planned months in advance and bookings done much before. In this case, Air India has missed the load factors," said the source.

Air India had made a strong pitch for the Delhi-Melbourne sector, and had even announced its plans in June to launch a non-stop flight in November this year, but the plan was hanging fire after the ministry reportedly twice rejected the proposal in as many months. Air India had aimed to launch flights this winter, as studies conducted by an independent third party indicated that the route would generate surplus cash of around Rs 60 crore over 18 months of operation.

In a board meeting the carrier's chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav had said the launch of the route would give Air India a leg up in the sector where the only other direct connectivity is provided by Qantas. The Australian airline is in a code-sharing agreement with Jet Airways for the Mumbai-Sydney sector. Melbourne airport works out to be cheaper than Sydney, which was an added attraction for Air India. Even though the ailing national carrier had approached Sydney and Brisbane airports earlier, Melbourne offered a slew of incentives.

The airline has been suffering huge losses on the international sector, with long-haul flights to New York alone accounting for a loss of Rs 400 crore annually.

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