Mumbai: As some of Europe’s biggest airlines pull out of key routes in India because of an economic slowdown, West Asian carriers are flying in to plug the gaps.
These carriers are targeting passengers flying to Europe and the US from India, using their home bases in West Asia as connecting airports.
Filling the gap: Airlines based in West Asia are targeting passengers flying to Europe and the US from India. Jack Atley / Bloomberg
Qatar Airways said Thursday it would start flying to Goa, whose beaches attract a large number of European and American tourists, as well as to Amritsar, from 29 March. The Doha-based airline already flies to nine cities in India.
Bahrain Air announced earlier in the day it would begin three new routes to Kozhikode, Kerala, from 1 April, adding to its four-times-a-week Kochi route. “They are not just targeting labour traffic (mainly from Kerala to West Asia), but onward traffic that will give them more revenue in the long term,” said an aviation analyst with an international brokerage.
Nearly all West Asian airports are investing heavily to develop as connecting points to other parts of the world, he added, asking not to be named as he’s not authorized to speak to the media.
Data from the directorate general of civil aviation, India’s aviation regulator, shows West Asia generates the most passenger traffic to and from India. In 2006-07, the latest period for which data is available, 1.73 million passengers flew into India from West Asia, while 1.96 million travelled from India to the Gulf regions.
Drawn by the large numbers, Dubai-based Emirates Airlines increased operations in 10 Indian cities by 31 flights a week to 163 between October and February. Sharjah-based low-fare carrier Air Arabia PJSC is also launching three flights a week to Goa from 16 April, adding to its existing 12 destinations in India.
According to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, an international aviation consulting firm, West Asian airlines are taking delivery of 50 wide body aircraft this year, or 21% of the total deliveries in 2009. These proportions could increase if the loss-making Asian and European airlines defer or cancel some of their orders, it said.
Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, said in a statement that “with the growth of the Indian economy into a potential global powerhouse and Qatar’s drive to spread its economic wings globally, increasing air links between the two countries is of paramount importance”.
This capacity expansion by West Asian airlines comes at a time when other foreign carriers are withdrawing flights from India, citing poor seat occupancy.
UK’s Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd became the latest to suspend the Mumbai-London operations from 4 May, while Singapore Airlines Ltd, British Airways Plc. and Deutsche Lufthansa AG are either paring capacity or freezing expansion in India.
Finnish airline Finnair said on Monday that it is suspending its flights to Mumbai from May to mid-October due to the stiff competition on Mumbai-European routes.
The intense competition in the India-Europe route had forced the UK’s second-largest carrier British Midland Airways Ltd to pull out completely from India in 2007. Taipei-based Eva Air, Italian carrier Alitalia, run by Linee Aeree Italiane SpA, and Austrian Airlines faced a similar situation in India. Indian carriers have also felt the heat. Jet Airways (India) Ltd, which started flying abroad in 2004, has slammed the brakes on its international expansion. Rival carrier Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, too, has delayed its international plans, just months after it started its international operations with flights to London from Bangalore in September.