New Delhi: The civil aviation ministry has permitted the Dubai government-owned low-cost carrier FlyDubai to operate three weekly flights between its West Asian hub and Lucknow, a ministry official said.
The clearance comes nearly nine months after FlyDubai was scheduled to begin its India operations.
Adding capacity: A FlyDubai aircraft. The carrier which has been allowed three weekly flights between Dubai and Lucknow will have to wait for a fresh round of bilateral talks to operate more flights.
The airline had sought flights to Chandigarh and Coimbatore as well.
Even though the belated clearance falls short of FlyDubai’s expectations, aviation analysts said its entry will make the competition fiercer for Indian carriers operating on the crowded route.
FlyDubai currently has a fleet of seven aircraft, and has ordered 45 more Boeing 737-800 NG planes.
With 189 all-economy seats, its B737 aircraft can fly 3,000km from Dubai—or just under four hours. The Nepalese capital of Kathmandu is the furthest it reaches currently, but the airline is keen to expand in India.
“All they can do is start three flights to Lucknow, that’s the maximum they were allowed,” a civil aviation ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
That is because Dubai’s first home-grown carrier, Emirates, is already utilizing most of the 54,000-odd weekly seats agreed upon between India and Dubai. Emirates flies 185 weekly services to 10 Indian cities.
FlyDubai will have to adjust the seats with Emirates if it wants to fly to other Indian cities, the official said.
“Our discussions with the authorities in India about the commencement of our operations to the region are ongoing,” Flydubai said in an email reply to Mint. “We are working very closely together and hope to have a confirmed date for the start of our flights in the near future.”
The carrier had announced Indian operations from 13 July 2009, with ticket prices starting from Rs3,700 including taxes. It later aborted the launch and said it would refund passengers after the clearance did not come through, as Mint reported on 2 August.
“They had employed some 400-500 people for one-and-a-half years (in India) and they were coming to the point where they would have had to terminate them,” the ministry official quoted above said. “There was a constant pressure at every level on us.”
FlyDubai will now have to wait for a fresh round of bilateral talks to get more seats to India. No such talks are scheduled for this year.
Nonetheless, the carrier is being seen as a tough new competitor for Indian carriers such as the low-fare Air India Express, as well as full-service carriers Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines.
“FlyDubai will leverage its unique position as a new player on the field by forcing product, price and service to ensure that the likes of Paramount Airways, IndiGo, Kingfisher Airlines, Air India Express, SpiceJet and Jet Airways all feel the pain of its presence,” said Saj Ahmad, a London-based aerospace analyst.
“FlyDubai will push that competitive boundary beyond the means of most other operators who are struggling just to survive, let alone enter into cut-throat competition. Could FlyDubai have done all that without state backing? Unlikely. Government support goes a long way if used properly,” Ahmad said.