Atlanta leaders are looking to persuade Air India that the Southeast’s economic hub should be its next U.S. destination.
Driven by the Consulate General of India in Atlanta, the Indian community is gathering support for a petition that will make a business case to the country’s flag carrier as it expands U.S. service.
Air India has five U.S. gateways and should begin new service to Los Angeles and Dallas later this year. It launched nonstop service between Delhi and Washington on July 7, linking the two nations’ capitals just after President Donald Trump hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House in late June.
The Washington flight started out as an extension of Air India’s New York-Delhi route, but eventually blossomed into a three-days-a-week nonstop as the benefits of the link became clear.
Nonstop would be preferred, but an Atlanta flight could follow a similar model as leaders work to make their case to the carrier, said Nagesh Singh, the country’s consul general in Atlanta, who has long been pushing for greater connectivity.
The effort comes as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ramps up its own efforts to woo the carrier.
“We have trips planned probably within the next few months to India,” Roosevelt Council, the airport’s general manager, told Global Atlanta, fittingly, on the sidelines of an economic development conference where Atlanta airport leaders were training developing-world airport officials in route development.
An India trip this year would be the second for Hartsfield-Jackson in as many years. A 2016 trip included meetings with Air India and was conducted in conjunction with economic development and tourism leaders from Atlanta and Georgia.
Mr. Council said that the airport would welcome a Delta Air Lines flight to India but isn’t waiting on its hometown partner.
“It doesn’t matter who the carrier is,” he said, referring to the economic development impact of a new route. “If we can get Air India to come here it’s the same thing.”
He added that the airport stands as a ready part of the city’s coalition to make a strong case for a new link.
“It’s always a business decision for the airline. No matter how much we want somebody, it needs to be something they feel like can be profitable for them. But I think we actually present a pretty attractive package.”
Air India’s regional manager in the New York office couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
The airline wouldn’t be without strong competition. Atlanta’s air connections to the subcontinent got a big boost last year, when both Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines opened nonstop routes to Atlanta from their respective hubs offering one-stop access to a variety of Indian cities. Lufthansa also has India routes through its hub in Frankfurt, Germany, while Delta offers connections through Amsterdam through a partnership with India’s Jet Airways.
Still, to some, it’s high time that Atlanta had more direct access to the country, even if it’s a marathon flight, to reduce total travel time and eliminate the unpredictable layovers.
The new push comes at a time of change for India’s national carrier as the government works to privatize the airline, reducing its overall debt burden to help it better compete globally. At the same time, a new owner would improve the airline’s corporate culture, Chairman Ashwani Lohani reportedly said in a letter to employees.
Air India could also butt heads with Delta, which has said in the past that the Air India used U.S. taxpayer-subsidized loans through the Export-Import Bank of the United States to buy widebody aircraft, giving it a lower cost basis on long-haul routes.
Delta previously operated a short-lived nonstop flight to Mumbai from Atlanta but has said that unfair competition from Middle East carriers and Air India make it uneconomical to restart the link.