In a welcome development enhancing connectivity, Air India, India’s premier carrier has announced that it will operate direct flights thrice a week from Washington to Delhi, beginning this summer in July this year.
With this new plan, India’s state-owned national carrier will be the only airline offering nonstop service, on its Boeing 777 aircraft, linking the capitals of the world’s largest and oldest democracy. And quite expeditiously given the distance — duration of the flight is about 14 hours.
As per reports, the national capital region is all set to become Air India’s fifth US destination, following New York, Newark, Chicago and San Francisco. Addressing an event to announce the new route, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe noted that Air India’s ‘capital connection’ will benefit the Washington metropolitan region (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) by bringing an estimated 30,000 people from India, generating about 30 million dollars in revenue, fostering educational opportunities, and reuniting families.
In 2015, the capital area received 122,000 visitors from India, a 25 percent increase from the previous year, making India the fourth largest overseas market. By 2020, arrivals from India are estimated to increase by 7 percent and by 2025, they are projected to double.
“We committed 1.25 million dollars to this project for Air India because we understand that tourism is such an important revenue generator”, McAuliffe said. “Tourists who will now come here from India will help strengthen our communities, make us stronger”.
The event was held at the Washington Dulles International Airport which is situated in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Virginia, approximately 26 miles west of downtown Washington, and serves the entire national capital area and beyond. A few days before, McAuliffe had come to the airport to support those protesting President Trump’s executive order which bans travel for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
Heralding Air India’s new service, McAuliffe said, “Today, is an exciting time for us. Instead of putting walls up around our country, we are taking barriers down and building a bridge which is 7,480 miles, opening up new opportunities to link the Commonwealth of Virginia to the great country of India”. The Democratic Governor underscored, “We are open and welcoming to everyone. We do not discriminate here in the Commonwealth of Virginia”, he said, to applause.
Pankaj Srivastava, Director of Commercial at Air India Limited, focused on the expansion of the airline on the global circuit mentioning that in the last three years it has added eleven international destinations, and Washington will be the twelfth. “The turnaround has been tremendous”, he said, predicting that with the addition of the new route, it will be even faster. “We would be part of the success story of Virginia”, he affirmed.
Jack Potter, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), enthused, “We are very excited about this announcement. We serve thirty capitals around the world and we are looking forward this summer to adding another one”, he said. Cognizant of the reciprocity, Potter mentioned that people in India are “super excited” about the opportunity to travel to the Washington metropolitan area.
To Srivastava and the Air India representatives on hand at the event, he said, “We are honored that you chose to come to Dulles. We know you are going to grow here because this population is looking forward to the direct service to India and the many connections you will offer once you get to Dulles”.
It is noteworthy that when Governor McAuliffe led a large trade and marketing mission to India in November 2015, he was accompanied by Todd Haymore, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, and they both underscored the importance of Delhi to the Washington capital area. It was there that they met with executives of Air India who agreed on a new route to Dulles Airport.
Haymore spoke about economic development in Virginia and the role of tourism which is the state’s second largest private sector industry. Noting that tourism generates about 23 billion dollars in annual revenue, 1.6 billion dollars in taxes, and accounts for 223,000 jobs across the Commonwealth, he believed Air India’s capital connection “is going to enhance those numbers even further”.
President Trump’s travel ban is seen as having a detrimental impact on tourism and Governor McAuliffe didn’t mince any words when it came to denouncing the executive order on immigration. “It’s unconstitutional. He needs to rescind his order”, he said, emphatically. “It violates our First and Fifth Amendments, the establishment clause, due process clause, and equal protection clause”. Virginia has joined a federal lawsuit against the president and members of his administration for the “unlawful order”.
Noting that “India is a country with over a billion people which will have the largest Muslim population in the world by 2050″, the Governor said, “We don’t want to send any message to anybody” which is contrary to the values of being open and welcoming.
“We are a beacon of democracy for the globe”, he emphasized. “This is the land of immigrants unless you are native American. You came from somewhere”.
Referring to the early immigrants who came on ships to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, he said, “They were not turned back from the water’s edge. They were welcomed in what is now the United States of America. We are going to foster that as we go forward”, he pledged.