Air India To Retrain 8,000 Employees Ahead Of Star Alliance Entry

Joining Star Alliance means Air India passengers will be able to fly on a network of 21,900 daily flights to 1,328 airports in 195 countries.

Jan. 20--NEW DELHI -- Air India Ltd will retrain nearly 8,000 employees in preparation for joining the Star Alliance grouping by mid-September.

Star Alliance suspended its invitation to India's flag carrier in 2011, but renewed it in December after a unanimous vote in the backdrop of fresh momentum in the Indian aviation sector.

Etihad Airways PJSC of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) bought a stake in Jet Airways (India) Ltd and Tata Sons Ltd is in the process of launching a new airline with Singapore Airlines Ltd.

Joining Star Alliance means Air India passengers will be able to use Star's facilities like airport lounges, fly on a network of 21,900 daily flights to 1,328 airports in 195 countries and redeem air miles on airlines such as Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Singapore Airlines Ltd, Air China Ltd, Air Canada, United Airlines Inc., US Airways, TAM Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Thai Airways.

Air India will have to comply with certain rules set by Star Alliance to become a member.

"This includes training all the 8,000 front-line staff we have to the common standards of the Star member airlines," said an Air India official who declined to be named. "There would be separate training for back-end staff."

One of the conditions for the front-line staff, which includes crew members and check-in and airport lounge employees, is to ensure that they recognize frequent fliers and acknowledge them whenever they fly.

Air India will join Star Alliance this summer, the group's chief executive Mark Schwab said on Sunday, and the process of integration has started.

The entry could take place between May and September.

Schwab, who was in India over the weekend to meet Air India chairman Rohit Nandan and tour various airline and airport facilities, said the airline was invited again to join as it had completed a tough merger process and renewed its fleet.

The entry of a new airline in Star Alliance is usually accompanied by a lot of fanfare, with special Star Alliance aircraft flying into the country in the attendance of CEO's of all the Star member-airlines. Schwab indicated the same ceremony might take place in India given the importance of the market for Star Alliance.

Nandan said the entry will give Air India better brand value, and a bigger network which will eventually help in better revenue.

Nearly 37 million international passengers travel to and from India a year. Indian airlines, including Air India and Jet Airways, have a 33% share of this international traffic, while 17% is with West Asian airlines such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Air Arabia.

Star Alliance has a 13% share, while rivals OneWorld and SkyTeam have 8% each. The rest is with other international airlines that are not members of these groups, Mint reported on 28 August, citing an internal presentation discussed by Star in its June board meeting.

The challenges that were discussed at the June meeting included Jet Airways's closeness to Etihad, which will now route more India traffic through Abu Dhabi; Qatar Airways joining rival alliance OneWorld; and AirAsia Bhd launching an Indian unit.

Since then Tata Sons has announced that it will launch an airline with Singapore Airlines, a move that could divert traffic to the US and South-East Asia through Singapore, posing challenges for leading Star carrier Lufthansa.

Schwab did not comment specifically on Jet, to which Star had offered membership earlier, but said eventually the best product out of India will be chosen by the passenger. He said a second airline from India was welcome to join the Alliance but added Tata-SIA was not a natural choice. It could be any airline and a decision on it would be taken in future, he added.

Copyright 2014 - Mint, New Delhi

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