Air India has delivered a shot in the arm to Birmingham Airport by re-starting flights to the sub-continent five years after they were halted.
Flights to Delhi will depart four times a week, with Air India using the new Boeing 787-8 ‘Dreamliner’, from August 1.
The move comes after a five year period that has seen ties between the city and India strengthened, with the purchase of Jaguar Land Rover by Tata Motors and a significant increase in inward investment by Indian companies in the Midlands.
Birmingham Airport’s chief executive Paul Kehoe expressed delight at the Indian national carrier’s return and admitted it was something the airport had been striving to achieve for a long time.
“This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that Birmingham can play a role in long-haul traffic and we have persuaded Air India of the same,” he said.
“But the dynamics have also changed since they left. Tata have come in and taken over Jaguar Land Rover.
“We have also seen Mahindra & Mahindra and lots of other Indian companies coming in and we are seeing a little bit of a return from the economic uncertainties we had.
“We have created an opportunity for Air India to come along with a fantastic product and a brand new aeroplane, they have restructured themselves and hopefully we can make it work.
“I think it is a shot in the arm for the Midlands because it’s saying the Midlands can connect with the world and that connectivity is good for our communities and our industries.
“You have seen my delight and I hope it really works for them and for us.”
Business leaders will be hoping for a boost in exports to India on the back of the announcement.
The Post recently reported that goods sales to the subcontinent actually fell by more than a third last year to £213.2 million.
However, the West Midlands now receives more foreign direct investment from India than any other UK region outside London.
Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham, said around ten per cent of the pipeline of companies interested in investing in the city was now Indian.
“Ten per cent if that interest is Indian and probably this time last year it would have only been a couple of per cent, so we have seen a significant rise in interest either in coming here or having a base here,” he said.
“Air India was here five years ago but the world has changed and we have a lot more companies exporting to India and with supply bases in India. There is therefore much more corporate requirement for indigenous companies to go to India.”
Flights on the new route will operate each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, arriving from Delhi into Birmingham at 7pm and departing to Delhi from Birmingham at 9.30pm.
The use of the new Dreamliner aircraft is also seen as a coup for both the airline and the airport, with Birmingham being only the second UK airport to operate scheduled services using it.
The 256-seat aircraft has a split cabin, consisting of 18 business class and 238 economy seats and
The aircraft is also 20 per cent more fuel efficient than the Boeing 767 it replaces due to its use of composites.
Kailash Singh, the airline’s regional manager UK, Ireland and Europe, said: “It is an exciting day for Air India, Birmingham Airport and the people of Birmingham and around the West Midlands.
“I have been here for the last two years and ever since then there have been demands and requests from different associations and bodies that we should start flights from Birmingham to India.”
The airline also said if it proved a success there was “a strong possibility” of it becoming a daily service or additional routes being added.