Direct flights to India at last

Direct flights between Australia and India will finally become a reality in late August when state-run Air India begins daily services using its new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

After a 16-year absence from Australia, Air India will begin flying a triangular route between Delhi, Sydney and Melbourne on August 29 using the new Dreamliners. For four days a week, flights will be Delhi-Sydney-Melbourne, and for three days they will run Delhi-Melbourne-Sydney.

Until now, Singapore Airlines has held a strong grip on the travel market between Australia and India because of the lack of direct services. Most travellers have had to fly via Singapore.

The arrival of the Air India 787s also means the Indian flag carrier will pip Jetstar to become the first airline to fly the state-of-the-art Dreamliners to Australia. Jetstar's first 787 is not due until September.

Air India has frequently come close to starting direct services only for it to postpone them due to internal issues or delays to the delivery of the 787 Dreamliners it has ordered. The grounding of the worldwide fleet of 787s early this year because of a potential risk of battery fire further delayed its plans.

Air India commercial director Deepak Brara said the airline wanted to split direct services between Sydney and Melbourne to give "both cities the benefits of non-stop services".

"People who travel between Australia and India usually spend more than a week on either side," he said.

Mr Brara conceded that there had been long delays in starting services to Australia but said people could take comfort from them happening because Air India had started taking bookings on Friday.

"That should afford some degree of certainty. There have been so many [delays]. The reason has been the delay in the delivery of the 787s and the groundings," he told BusinessDay on Friday.

The NSW and Victorian governments have gone out of their way to convince Air India to fly to their capital cities, including offering concessions to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports.

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell said the new services would generate a substantial growth in visitors to Sydney and the state directly from Delhi.

“This new Air India service will make getting to Sydney and NSW even easier, meaning we can welcome even more visitors from India," he said.

Qantas stopped flying to India in May last year when it ditched services between Singapore and Mumbai.

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