New Delhi-based Air India officially joined Star Alliance Friday, opening the world’s fifth-largest aviation market to the other 26 member airlines comprising the Star Alliance network. The government-owned airline will be the first Indian carrier to join a global alliance.
At noon, with a Bollywood-referencing “lights, camera, action” flourish, a huge red curtain dropped at Indira Gandhi International Airport’s Terminal 3, revealing an Airbus A320 painted in the Star Alliance livery, as Air India chairman and MD Rohit Nandan and Star Alliance CEO Mark Schwab walked the red carpet out onto the tarmac to greet Air India flight crew members and fellow Star Alliance executives descending the aircraft’s passenger stairs.
“This is an important day for us,” Schwab said. “We have said for many years that we needed a strong home carrier in the Indian market and by welcoming Air India to our Star Alliance family, we have achieved this goal.”
The day culminates a seven-year process for the Indian national carrier. The airline was originally accepted as a future Star Alliance member in 2007, but its entry was suspended in 2011 after failure to meet minimum joining conditions. Following encouraging results from a 2013 government-backed turn-around plan, the airline revived its application process. Air India’s admittance into Star Alliance was approved June 23.
Air India will add nearly 400 daily flights and 50 domestic Indian destinations to the Star Alliance network. The carrier is the first Indian airline to be inducted into the group and is its 27th member.
“New destinations include the industrial hubs of Aurangabad and Vadadora; [pharmaceutical production hub] Indore; textile and engineering center Coimbatore and Jamnagar, India’s ‘oil city’,” Air India said.
“From today, we open a completely different world for our passengers,” Nandan said. “Air India is proud to be a member of this prestigious airline alliance.”
Air India said the biggest growth will come from its home market, which had been served by 13 Star Alliance members flying to ten destinations, holding a 13% market share. The addition of Air India to the Star Alliance will increase the alliance’s market share in India to 30%, the company said in a statement.
Air India’s primary hub is located in Delhi, with its major secondary hub situated in Mumbai. The carrier had 95 aircraft in its fleet—one of the youngest in the industry, with an average age of four-and-a-half years—includes a mix of widebody Boeing 777s, 747s, 787 Dreamliners, Airbus A330s, A321s, A320s and A319s.