Indian carriers set to connect more UK cities

Indian carriers set to connect more UK cities

New Delhi: India and Britain are set to amend a bilateral pact to allow airlines from the two countries to expand their reach to smaller cities, two civil aviation ministry officials said on condition of anonymity.

The move will set the stage for Air India and Kingfisher Airlines Ltd to enter so-called domestic code-sharing agreements with British Midland Airways (BMI) and British Airways Plc. (BA), respectively, as sought by the Indian carriers earlier this year.

Code sharing allows an airline to include a connecting flight operated by another carrier on its own ticket. The practice is followed mainly for international flights. The expected amendment will make Britain the sixth country in which Indian carriers can have domestic code-sharing pacts, after the US, France, China, Japan and the Netherlands.

“This will allow passengers to have access to interior points on the same ticket," said a ministry official.

The amendment will also put the two Indian carriers on their way to joining global airline alliances, or networks of airlines that have code-sharing agreements with each other.

Air India, operated by National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, wants to join the Star Alliance, of which BMI is a member. Kingfisher wants to join Oneworld, which includes BA.

Analysts say the British carriers, which have a limited domestic network, will gain more from the amended agreement by enjoying access to the much larger Indian market.

“BA will get more than Kingfisher. The UK has limited city pairs that BA operates... (However) BA can interline and transfer to over 40 Indian cities and milk Kingfisher’s network for their own customers. This money will go to BA, not Kingfisher—Kingfisher will get nothing but a small cut," said Saj Ahmad, a London-based aviation analyst.

“Also, Kingfisher will not get freedom rights to fly from London to the USA—that’s BA’s bread and butter business and they want to work with American Airlines to strengthen their grip on that market," he added.

Kingfisher flies to 61 Indian cities and has daily flights from Mumbai and New Delhi to London’s Heathrow airport.

In turn, BA has only about half a dozen domestic destinations to offer, including Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Air India flies to 62 airports in the country, of which 17 are connected to international destinations. In contrast, BMI has about a dozen cities on its route map, including Birmingham.