Air India's budget arm Air India Express plans to increase capacity and induct more aircraft to take on the competition.
Besides deploying 3-4 per cent more capacity from the winter schedule and adding another eight planes to the fleet, the airline will also focus on markets other than the already established southern region, a top official told PTI here.
Budget carriers such as Sharjah-based Air Arabia, Dubai's FlyDubai and Malaysia's AirAsia operate on most of the routes catered to by Air India Express. It also competes with domestic budget airlines IndiGo and SpiceJet.
The Kochi-based airline operates 165 weekly flights connecting 12 international routes and on 11 domestic destinations with a fleet of 17 aircraft. Of these, 87 flights are from Kerala alone.
"Our plan is to add 3-4 percent capacity from the winter schedule. In addition, we will also be increasing aircraft utilisation from the current 188 hrs a day (by the full fleet) by another 8-10 hrs," the official said.
A couple of years ago, the airline operated around 214 flights a week with 25 Boeing 737s including seven leased ones. However, after one of its owned planes crashed in Mangalore in 2010 and it returned all the seven leased aircraft, Air India Express significantly cut down operations.
The state-run airline recently floated bids for leasing 8 brand new Boeing 737-800s, the official said, adding, "the objective is to maintain our earlier fleet size."
The next expansion phase of Air India Express will focus on markets other than the South, besides launching the routes that are financially viable, he said.
"We are, of course, not looking at major destinations but we keep market dynamics in mind while mapping up new routes or sectors," the official added.
Asked about the shortage of pilots, the official said the shortage has been met by getting pilots from Air India. "We are now in a comfortable position on the pilots front," the official added.