Indian National carrier and Star Alliance member – Air India, withdrew its three weekly flights to Madrid and flights to Birmingham from Amritsar and New Delhi effective today. The airline made an announcement on Twitter on Wednesday and subsequently closed reservation of the flight. This will get the stations its serves in Europe – down to eight from existing ten. The airline will continue service to London, Frankfurt, Paris, Stockholm, Milan, Vienna, Rome and Copenhagen.
The Madrid service was launched in December 2016 with thrice weekly flights operated by the B787 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline has been operating thrice a week service to Birmingham from Amritsar and from New Delhi, making Birmingham a six-weekly operation.
Pakistan has closed its airspace for transit flights since 27th February 2019. As of today, limited transit flights are allowed with entry points from its border with China and exit points in the Arabian ocean. This thread will shed more light on how the airspace has been closed and how the extensions are being announced.
Pakistan airspace closure has been extended for transit flights till 18th March (1000 UTC/1500 Local/1530 Indian Standard Time)
However, certain ATS routes are open including for transit – Chinese carriers are transiting via waypoint PURPA
Reasons for closure remain unknown https://t.co/FmHCKBRH5I
— Ameya (@khabri_lal) March 15, 2019
The flights to Europe from New Delhi which earlier transited to Pakistani airspace near Amitsar and continued via either of Afghanistan or Iran are now forced to travel at least up to waypoint AKTIV and then continue the flight entering Muscat FIR and onwards in the Iranian airspace. The detour takes up considerable aircraft time and impacts the hub at New Delhi, requiring additional aircraft.
The airline has thus made available aircraft for operations to other routes. The airline has also been grappling with groundings of narrow body fleet and certain metro routes are operated by the B787 Dreamliner which are also the backbone of its European operations putting stress on its stretched pilots and schedule.
Air India operates to New York, Newark, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco in the United States and after initial trials of having a re-fueling stop at Sharjah, the airline has planned a stop at Vienna. The airline website does not list this stop and instead shows the flights as Non-stop flights. A planned stop will help the airline base crews at Vienna and better manage the FDTL (Flight Duty Time Limitations). These changes are currently in place till end of April and the situation will change based on the airspace closure updates. If the airspace is closed for a longer period, there could be further reduction in flights to Europe. The Mumbai – New York route has been closed for sale till end of May.
How are the flights selected?
For a network carrier like Air India, cost or loads is not the only metric to decide on which flights should operate and which should not. A whole bunch of factors affect the decision, which includes feed in and out of the flight, partnerships with carriers at destination airports and certainly the bottom lines.
Birmingham was always considered to be a low yield destination with seasonal traffic, which avoids the harsh summer of Amritsar. Rumor had it that Madrid was to go off radar last September, but lasted till now and the airline may just be taking it out from schedule in view of Pakistani airspace closure. It remains to be seen on how the airline will react if the airspace is opened. In all probabilities, Birmingham will be back as a seasonal flight from New Delhi while Madrid has been dropped for good.