Air India Express (AIE), the low-cost arm of Air India, is embarking on an ambitious route expansion plan for tapping the major Asian air-travel markets beyond the Middle East.

In an interaction with The Hindu here on Tuesday, newly-appointed CEO K. Shyamsunder said the airline had already begun market data analysis and passenger feedback survey to find out the viable routes.

“The proposal is being taken up on a priority basis as eight new B 737-800 aircraft are set to join us on a dry lease from the beginning of next fiscal,’’ he said, adding that about six sets of cockpit and corresponding number of cabin crew per craft would be also inducted to enable its operation.

The foreign destinations under the network expansion plans include Tehran in Iran and other former Soviet-block nations located in its neighbourhood. In addition, the airline seeks to stand alive to the market requirements by fostering its presence in the existing sectors and in the North like New Delhi and Jaipur.

At present, the airline has 17 B737s in its fleet. It floated a tender for induction of the eight B737s, and had been in consultations with the lease agents.

“The targeted fleet size under the AIE turnaround plan is 36 aircraft, which will be achieved by 2017-18,’’ the CEO explained.

Regarding the proposal to shift the AIE headquarters to Kochi, Mr. Shyamsunder said the airline was determined to fight the challenges ahead with a shift in the location. “In a way, we are here. For, we have already shifted the administration and finance departments to here, and it will be completed with the leasing of a new office space very soon,’’ he said.

According to Mr. Shyamsunder, it is important for every airline to move closer to its major market.

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