PARIS: It’s all about an India focus at Air France’s headquarters in Paris. The Indian welcome, “namaste,” newspapers, vegetarian food and films on board its flights make up the current agenda. More destinations in India and more services to Chennai are in the list of long-term objectives.
Looking at India as a fast developing strategic zone to get more passengers – either intending to stay here for a while or transiting through Charles de Gaulle Airport to countries further West – Air France looks to becoming the preferred European carrier for Indians, says the airline’s Senior Vice-President of International and The Netherlands Division, Jean-Louis Pinson.
At present, 80 per cent of Air France’s Indian passengers transit through Charles de Gaulle Airport, while the remaining 20 per cent stay on for tourism or other purposes.
“There is a great potential for more passenger traffic and we want to tap this,” he says.
For this, flight crew are being given an orientation on what food Indians prefer, the regional films they like to watch and even the gestures that should be used while guiding them. “So far, 250 flight attendants have volunteered to learn Indian culture through our programme,” says Mr. Pinson.
French crew will welcome Indian passengers now with a ‘namaste.’ “And, sometime later, we may have a few Indian crew who can speak Hindi and Tamil,” he says.
The passenger traffic from India has trebled in five years since the launch of the Bangalore service in 2005 and the Chennai service in 2006. But, there is a bit of a standstill this year and it may have been caused by inflation and competition. He, however, projects a 9 per cent to 10 per cent growth every year.
The Air France group, which includes the KLM airline, is looking at Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Pune as the next destinations.
“But, these are only options that are being explored now and nothing has been decided yet. We want to first firm up things in Hyderabad. And, when it is time to look for the next destination, it may be an Air France or a KLM service to Kolkata,” says Mr. Pinson.
Air France may consider operating five services a week from Chennai next winter and a daily service later. Tie-ups with domestic carriers for connecting flights may also be worked out.
“Again, none of these is finalised. These are all possibilities. And, there are no plans to buy stakes in any Indian airline or for franchise,” he says.
On increasing the number of flights from India, Mr. Pinson says Air France is yet to touch the permitted number of 35 a week. There are 29 flights now — Air France operates 24 and KLM five.
As for the introduction of A380 airbus service, he says: “At present, there are space constraints in New Delhi and Mumbai. But, we believe that in 2010 both the airports can handle A380 aircraft
6 months ago