The first direct Air India flight from Delhi to Washington DC landed today at the Dulles International Airport, connecting the capitals of the world’s two largest democracies.
The flight, AI 103, was accorded a water cannon salute and traditional gate-side prayer ceremony upon its landing at the airport.
Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna, Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani and Commercial Director of Air India Pankaj Shrivastava were among the passengers on the inaugural flight to Washington.
Air India has deployed its 238-seater Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft to cater to the new direct service to the US. The plane offers eight seats in first class, 35 in business and 195 in economy class.
The state-run airline will operate a bigger 321-seater Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between July 9 and 17, according to the airline spokesperson.
The non-stop flight service is expected to bring in additional 30,000 leisure and business travellers and USD 30 million in total economic impact annually to the National Capital Region, local officials here said.
“Here in the nation’s capital, we are delighted to invite many more visitors from India to explore the sights and sounds that make Washington DC the greatest city in the world,” said District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser.
According to Sabre Global Demand Data for the year ending March 2016, the Washington DC area welcomed more than 281,000 Indian visitors, making India the fourth largest overseas travel market for the region.
Jerome Davis, executive vice president and chief revenue officer of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said international visitation between India and the Washington DC area is expected to double by 2025.
“India currently represents a six per cent market share of all international travellers to the Commonwealth and is Virginia’s fourth largest market,” said Todd Haymore, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade.
“With projected growth, this new direct route to Dulles International will not only help boost visitation from this high growth market, but also introduce the Commonwealth to new Indian audiences, including businesses, tourists and students,” Haymore said.
According to Travel Market Insights, visitation from India to the Washington DC area has grown by 40 per cent since 2013, and 70 per cent to the region, said Elliott Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of Destination DC, the official destination marketing organisation for the nation’s capital.
“We are excited about the potential for even more Indian business and leisure travellers to experience Washington DC’s dynamic neighbourhoods and tree attractions as well as the diverse experiences throughout the capital region,” Ferguson said.
The Dulles International Airport serves 7.5 million international travellers annually with nonstop service to more than 50 international destinations in more than 40 countries.
“Air India’s service launch adds our 33rd capital-to-capital connection-linking the world’s oldest democracy with the world’s largest democracy,” said Margaret McKeough, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Airports Authority.
“The Washington DC metro is Air India’s fifth US destination after New York, Newark, Chicago and San Francisco, and it reinforces our commitment to providing the most convenient service between the US and India,” said Ashwani Lohani, chairman and managing director of Air India.
The service to the US capital will be offered three times a week.
There are daily flights to Newark, New York and Chicago. However, Air India’s Delhi-San Francisco flight is operated six times a week.
The national carrier also plans to fly to other destinations in the US, such as Los Angeles and Houston among others.
Air India’s operations to the US account for 20 per cent of the total revenue of the national carrier.
In the last fiscal, the state-owned carrier mopped up an estimated Rs 3,200 crore revenue, which is an increase of 17 per cent over FY 2014-2015, from its US operations alone.