As AI drops Frankfurt as hub, other centres serenade the airline


By Tushar Srivastava

A financially beleaguered Air India is still hot enough for countries in Europe and the Middle East to seek to be its new operational hub. The Frankfurt airport, currently the hub for the national carrier’s America operations, will cease to play this role with the start of the winter schedule on October 29.

Al Maktoum International Airport
Al Maktoum International Airport

Top airline sources said close to a dozen letters had been received from European and Middle Eastern countries offering hub services.

In fact, Dubai is said to have offered AI its Al Maktoum International Airport as an “overseas base” where the airline can station its engineering and technical staff. The airport, touted to be the world’s largest when completed, is scheduled to begin commercial passenger operations next March.

Some European countries have even offered “exclusive dedicated terminals” at their airports if AI chooses them.

As per a presentation made before the company’s board on July 25, AI plans to gradually move to being a “hub carrier” with Delhi airport’s Terminal 3 as its primary operational hub, Mumbai as the secondary hub and smaller hubs within and outside India.

“Chances of Dubai being preferred for a hub look strong mainly because of the strong Indian presence, which makes it an attractive market,” a senior official said.

The decision to drop the Frankfurt hub — AI’s biggest and only hub outside India — has been taken as part of a revamp of international operations wherein the focus would shift to non-stop long-haul flights.

Starting with the winter schedule, AI would operate just one flight daily to Frankfurt from three at present. It would have direct flights to Chicago, Toronto and New York from Delhi and would operate non-stop flights from Mumbai to Newark. At present, AI flies via Frankfurt on these routes, except to New York.

“Frankfurt wasn’t profitable… Moreover, with Delhi becoming the hub, the need was no longer felt to retain the Frankfurt hub.”

What is a hub?

Airline hubs are flight transfer points to get passengers to destinations that are not connected by direct flights.