New Delhi: Emirates, the biggest West Asian airline, plans to consolidate its India operations this year after an expansion spree during the preceding two-year downturn that saw weekly flights to the country increase by 87%.
The Dubai-based carrier increased flights from 98 weekly services in 2007 to 184 in 2009.
“As of now we are consolidating our expansion of last year. We have no plans to expand at the moment,” Orhan Abbas, the airline’s vice-president for India and Nepal, said on Tuesday.
Part of the reason for the consolidation is also hurdles the airline faces on aviation bilateral rights with India, under which it has exhausted all the approved seat capacity.
“We have approximately 54,000 seats per week and we are pretty much operating all the approvals that we have,” said Abbas, who briefed journalists in New Delhi.
The civil aviation ministry has tightened its hand in giving out further bilateral rights after following a liberal regime for the second half of the last decade.
While it was good news for passengers as fares came cheap, the move was criticized by Indian airlines, including Air India, which sought a freeze on new rights from the government last year.
Consequently, Dubai-based low-cost carrier FlyDubai, the only other airline that can share the United Arab Emirates (UAE) rights granted by India, was given clearance for three flights a week to Lucknow by the aviation ministry from the leftover bilateral capacity earlier this year.
“It’s for the UAE government to decide who they want to give and how much,” said a civil aviation ministry official, who declined to be named, referring to the allocation of existing flight rights. For more flights by the two Dubai carriers, the seat allocation between the two countries has to be renegotiated.
Abbas, however, said the airline has no plans to pull out any of its existing 184 services, which the carrier says are running 75-80% full.
Nearly 60% of Emirates passengers from India use Dubai as a transit point to fly to other destinations such as the US and Europe, with 88% of its bookings coming through travel agents to which it will continue to pay a 5% commission, Abbas said.
The West Asia and Indian Ocean region, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Mauritius and Maldives, contributed about $1.4 billion (Rs6,538 crore today) in 2009-10 of Emirates’ total revenue of $11.8 billion.