In the backdrop of the annual national convention of the Indo-Canadian Business Chamber (ICBC) held here earlier this week, The Sunday Guardian caught up with Margaret Skinner, Air Canada’s Director Sales, who spoke candidly about Air Canada’s vision, expansion plans and her confidence in the Indian aviation market. Excerpts:
Q. What is the vision for Air Canada in respect to India?
A. We are expanding quite rapidly at the moment globally and as a company, our goal is to be a global champion. In India, we have invested very heavily with the induction of the state-of-the-art Dreamliner aircraft. We are not only investing in the aircraft, but also in the product on board. We are the only four star North American Airlines voted by SkyTrax and our goal is to become a five-star service.
Q. The Indian aviation market is seeing an upward growth like never before. Do you have any plans to tap into this market?
A. We are seeing competition everywhere around the world, and we are spending billions of dollars in new aircraft. We have great confidence in our products and networks. Globally, we are expanding rapidly and 90% of our expansion is in the international market. Both the direct flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Toronto and Vancouver have been successful for us. We would expand further once we feel that these routes are well established. We would also like all our services to be daily.
Q. How confident do you feel about the Indian aviation market?
A. I think we were very naive about the Indian market and the opportunities here, but we are very happy with the investments that we have made here. We have got great confidence in the Indian market. The economy is growing and expanding rapidly with a growth of 6% and this gives us confidence about the Indian market. What is interesting is that we can invest in various segments in India, ranging from corporation to students’ travel to leisure and we get a really good mix of traffic from this market. We expect this to only grow in the coming days. We also work very closely with the trading sector in this market. Our team in India is working very hard and so far, the results have been great. If this continues, we would like to invest further into this market.
Q. In recent years, India and Canada have been engaging in trade as well as business partnerships both in the small scale and large scale industries. Have these led to a growth in air traffic to Canada and how do you plan to benefit out of this?
A. There has been over 20% growth in air traffic to Canada in the last five years and this time it is because of all factors, like business, education as well as leisure. We are also seeing a movement of business traffic increasing rapidly in the last five years.
There is a film co-production treaty that was signed about two years back between India and Canada and that has opened up opportunities for Indian filmmakers to go to Canada to make films. Canada is the partner country for the forthcoming international film festival in Goa and we are likely to have 60-70 top Canadian producers coming to Mumbai through our Mumbai-Toronto non-stop flight. We have Indian filmmakers who are already in talks with us to use our services to make films there in Canada. And we believe with such activities, it would also open up Canada towards the leisure market and increase tourist inflow into the country.
The CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) between India and Canada that is under currently under discussion would further reinforce the kind of engagement that is already there and it would be a game changer for trade between India and Canada.
Q. People taking Air Canada flights to travel further into the United States often complain about the transit visa required. Is Air Canada doing something to waive transit visa as it would also help increase passenger traffic for the airlines?
A. Yes, the transit visa often becomes a point of consideration for passengers transiting through Canada. We are talking to the ministries in our country to help resolve this issue. But it requires a legislation to be passed since it is a law in Canada and, therefore, it is taking some time. It would be easier without the transit visa and our customers are giving us feedback on this. We are also working hard to waive this.
Q. As the India aviation market is expanding, where do you think we should improve in terms of infrastructure or operations?
A. We very strongly feel that infrastructure in the Indian aviation sector has improved tremendously in the last few years and there is no question about that. The new international airports in Delhi and Mumbai have state-of-the-art infrastructure. However, Mumbai does require one more runway, but I think there is a limitation and that is why the Indian government is looking towards a new airport in Navi Mumbai which will take care of a lot of problems. India has opened out its aviation sector quite tremendously to encourage more and more flights to come in.