Air India Express is looking to increase capacity to the Gulf region including the UAE, as well as provide more connectivity to Gulf travellers in different Tier 2 and 3 cities across India, a senior official said on Tuesday.

“There will be some capacity increases to Saudi Arabia and a little bit to Bahrain, Qatar and UAE. Between UAE and Kerala, the market is pretty well-served. We may be looking at increasing capacity from Kannur, a somewhat new point. On the Kerala-Gulf market, we will be offering some connectivity beyond points in Kerala to other points in India, so that people from the UAE and Gulf region will have better connectivity within different cities across India,” Aloke Singh, managing director, Air India Express, told Khaleej Times in an interview on Tuesday.

The budget carrier operates 105 flights between India and UAE a week including 80 to Dubai, 77 to Sharjah, 31 to Abu Dhabi, 5 to Ras Al Khaimah and 2 to Al Ain. Across the Gulf region, it operates 308 flights a week.

Air India Express recently increased flights to the UAE as part of its rationalisation programme with Air India. Under this programme, some routes would be served by Air India products to cater to premium traffic and value-conscious and thinner markets such as Surat-to-Sharjah, Indore-to-Dubai, Delhi-to-Sharjah and Goa-to-Dubai will be served by the budget carrier, he said during an interview on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow 2023.

In January 2022, Air India Express, together with Air India, was successfully privatised, with ownership returning to the Tata group that had initially founded Air India. In March 2023, Air India Group announced the completion of integration of its two subsidiaries Air India Express and AirAsia India.

Boosting Tier 2, 3 cities connectivity

AI Express chief added that there will be a lot of domestic capacity increase in the Indian market in the coming years as well as expansion into new markets in Southeast Asia and the Gulf region.

“AI Express will increasingly focus on connecting Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities of India to the UAE and Gulf countries. So far, AI Express has been purely point-to-point from India to the Gulf, Middle East and Southeast Asia. Now it is going to be a lot of wider connectivity of domestic routes that will make travel more seamless for passengers from these regions,” he said

Going forward, the airline will strongly focus on consolidating its network and expanding its existing market network but very limited expansion to new geographies. The new destinations that airline could look at within the six-hour flying timeframe are Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia.

Hiring up to 1,250 pilots, cabin crew

Singh revealed that the budget carrier will recruit hundreds of pilots and cabin crew in the coming months as it ramps up its domestic, Gulf and Southeast Asia connectivity with the delivery of dozens of new aircraft.

The budget carrier has brought on board 350 pilots in the past six months and 550 cabin crew members in the past year.

“We have been recruiting for the past several months, onboarding as many as 50 pilots and almost 200 cabin crew every month. We have a plan for the next 18 months based on the aircraft that are being inducted. We are going with a well-thought-out strategy to support this. By the end of 2024, we will be onboarding another 450 pilots and 700-800 cabin crew in the next 15 months,” he added.

AI Express is looking to grow its fleet to 100 aircraft by December 2024 and 175 in five years. It inducted 3 aircraft Boeing 737-8 since last month and it will take deliveries of another two this month.

“By March 2024, we are looking at 21 more aircraft and by December 2024, we will have 50 more new aircraft, taking our total fleet to 100,” Singh said.

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