From the Cockpit
Director Sales, EMEAI at Air Canada
To boost India-North America connectivity, Air Canada has started operations on its non-stop Vancouver-Delhi route. The airline is bullish about the Indian market and will be the first airline to start a non-stop service from Mumbai to Canada in July next year, says Margaret Skinner, Director Sales, EMEAI at Air Canada.
Air Canada is starting its non-stop flights from Delhi-Vancouver. What are your goals as far as developing in India is concerned?
Trade ties between India and Canada go back 100 years. With the opening up and strengthening of Indian economy, which is also aligned with us getting our fleet plan right and with the arrival of the new Dreamliner aircraft, it becomes more cost-effective for us to invest in the Indian market. We have started Delhi-Toronto and Delhi-Vancouver services and have also announced Mumbai to Toronto non-stop service from July 2017. We received a great response to our Toronto service.The Indian market is great. We are bullish about the Indian niche market.
For the first time there would be direct flights between the two nations and that too without any hault. What are the reasons behind the success of the Toronto service?
Within one year, the Toronto service has been very successful. In fact, from November 6, 2016, it will become a daily service. The success is in line of our expectation. India is doing well
as an economy and we see it as a stable economy. We have done a lot of activities in this market. We have a very strong proposition with our Dreamliner aircraft which offers competitive prices. We also have an alliance with Star Airlines and with other joint-venture partners. All of these make it a very viable route for us and we are looking farward to a huge sucess.
Making the daily service between India and Canada has seen a big success. Can you tell us something about its specific clientele?
The clientele is mixed, which is the reason why we are getting support from all market segments. We need to have our share of the business market. We have 29 seats in Business and 21 seats in Premium Economy. For any airline, those 50 seats are critical. The Premium Economy has proved a fantastic addition to our product offerings.
The student market is another interesting market segment, which is growing fast. Toronto and Vancouver are hubs for post graduate studies. We have made sure that we offer a seamless product so that one can transit through Vancouver to all of our networks within and beyond Canada. One can pre-clear customs, which is proving very successful. We wish to see a mix of business, and that is growing.
We have a huge amount of MICE groups of about 700-800. We are very aggressive on the MICE because Canada is the destination which is being looked at by a number of companies for incentives.
As far as Vancouver is concerned, what are the plans?
Vancouver is also growing as a very big hub for us. We have been building it as a transit-specific network. It is a very strong gateway for us. Our goal is to be easy. We want to take care of our passengers from their point of departure all the way through till we bring them home again. The Indian diaspora in that region is large and the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) traffic is huge.
What makes the Vancouver hub different?
The timings are the best part. For example, the Toronto flight arrives at 5 am in Toronto, and is one of the first flights to arrive. So, the immigration process becomes very comfortable. The flights leave Toronto at night, which does not waste time unlike the afternoon flights. It is important for customers to maximise their time.
What about the business segment for Vancouver?
The CDPQ (Canadian pension fund Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec) is investing heavily in India and there are a lot of joint ventures. So, there is enough scope in terms of business. However, the profiles of passengers show that a lot of leisure travellers are travelling on Business and Premium categories. The Premium Economy proved to be a product for the budget-conscious business traveller and also for the high luxury leisure traveller. Moreover, a large number of elderly travellers, whose children are settled
in Vancouver, are travelling by the business class.
So, we do not depend on one segment. We spread our wings and make connectivity flights. While most of the flights are from New Delhi, we get a lot of traffic from Mumbai, Punjab, etc. Our connections are excellent because of our alliance with Air India.
As far as the Premium Economy cabin of your airline is concerned, what is the trend and why would someone spend more on it?
Our Dreamliner product is stateof-the-art. We added the Premium Economy cabin which is accessible to all budgets. The leisure travellers are prepared to pay more for luxury. Our Premium Economy cabin is a separate cabin with superior services which are a value for money. Customers get priority boarding and check-in, and baggage handling. They get premium meals and beverage servings. This makes them feel privileged.
The aircrafts are brand new with a very modern decor in the cabin and high humidity levels, which gives a more rested feeling. It is a long haul flight, so, the aircraft is specially designed.
The success of these flights is also the testimony to the fact that Air Canada has a very positive feeling about India where the economy, market and the opportunities are growing. As business engagement between India and Canada is also growing, we have got high expectations.
India is growing in leaps and bounds. Many multinational companies are investing in India. What new plans does Air Canada have for India?
The current focus is going to be on operating the flights and stabilising the routes and making them profitable.
For the first time, we have a celebrity chef. Vikram Vij is doing all the food for Premium Economy and Business classes. David Hawksworth, a Canadian chef, provides all the signature dishes from Canada on the menu. Air Canada is the only North American carrier with four star rating from Stantranx.
Starting non-stop flights between the two countries will certainly make the travel easier and faster. What are the other new segments Air Canada would want to develop in coming years to attract more passengers?
Premium market is a big focus for us and to draw out as much corporate business as we can. We are seeing interest from corporate segment, big corporations and the Assamese market, for whom we have full Business cabin. We also have the Premium Economy which is a good segmentation. Customers want a seamless connection and we have achieved that in Toronto. Similarly, we are building up the Vancouver Hub.