Shifting its focus to tier-two cities, Air India on Tuesday connected this bustling industrial town of Uttar Pradesh to the national Capital as well as Kolkata. With more regional connections, Air India plans to increase its domestic market share and firm up falling revenues.

Inaugurating the Kanpur-Delhi flight at Chakeri Airport here, Civil Aviation Minister Vaylar Ravi assured the people that Air India would soon connect Kanpur to Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Along with Union Coal Minister and MP from Kanpur Sri Prakash Jaiswal, Mr. Ravi flagged off the flight to Kolkata. The flight will be operated by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India with a 70-seater CRJ-700 jet aircraft. The new flight – AI 9801/9802, will be operated on all days except Sundays on Delhi-Kanpur-Kolkata and back. Air India is offering special fares till June 30 on this sector.

Mr. Ravi said that Civil Aviation Ministry was looking at a perspective plan, focussing on U.P., with a stress to develop related infrastructure and improve connectivity of the State. He also plans to visit Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Academy (IGRUA) at Fursatganj in Rae Bareilly soon with an aim to start aviation training courses there. IGRUA at present has facilities for training pilots but, the Minister indicated, an ambitious expansion plan of the academy was on the cards.

Senior Air India officials who were on the inaugural Delhi-Kanpur-Kolkata flight said the carrier was looking at the regional sector, comprising tier-two and tier-three cities with one million-plus population, to be the growth driver for the domestic aviation sector. “There are 42 such towns and after conducting viability studies, we plan to connect most of them with major metros,’’ Air India officials said.

The airline also plans to lease 16 turbo prop 48-seater and 70-seater planes to operate on regional routes. Besides the four CRJ aircraft, which it has now, the national carrier is also looking at leasing more regional jets to operate faster flights on regional sectors.

Turbo prop planes would also be deployed on several routes in the north-east region where Air India would turn Guwahati as a major hub and offer connections to smaller cities in the north-east region. On the other hand, CRJs or the regional jets would be used to connect cities like Vadodara, Surat and Port Blair with Delhi.