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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

India said to reject UAE request for air rights in north-east  

Dubai-based carriers want to expand their operations in the fast-growing Indian aviation market

A Vistara plane at Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport in Mumbai. The carrier hopes Indians will pay more for better services. Reuters
A Vistara plane at Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport in Mumbai. The carrier hopes Indians will pay more for better services. Reuters

India is said to have rejected Dubai’s requests for more direct flights to the north-east of the country, a blow to expansion plans of Arabian Gulf carriers in one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world.

The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority reportedly wrote to India’s ministry of civil aviation earlier this year, requesting to fly to north-eastern airports without first stopping at hubs such as Delhi or Mumbai, under an ‘open sky’ policy.

“We have decided against allowing any such access to Dubai,” an official was quoted as telling India’s Economic Times newspaper this week.

“The request has been rejected,” he said.

While the specific request on direct flights to the north-east has been rejected, there is no decision yet on increasing Dubai’s bilateral flying rights elsewhere in India, according to the news report.

The UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) declined to comment, while requests for an official statement from India’s aviation ministry went unanswered.

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Dubai airlines Emirates and its low-cost partner flydubai want to capitalise on strong passenger growth forecasts for India, but have exhausted their current bilateral quota of 65,000 seats each.

Air passenger demand in India rose 16 per cent year-on-year in October, more than double the global demand growth of 7.2 per cent, according to the International Air Transport Association. The global aviation body projects India will generate an additional 337 million new passengers over the next two decades – from around 100 million in 2016 to 478 million by 2036 – making it the third fastest-growing domestic market after China and the United States.

“This is a narrow, sectoral decision that is not good for India or for Dubai,” said Andrew Charlton, managing director at Geneva think tank Aviation Advocacy.

“It is not good for [Dubai’s airlines] and over time, it will prove not to be good for India’s airlines, either.”

Dubai has been trying to negotiate expanded bilateral rights with India for some time, most recently to enable its carriers to tap the estimated 45 million people – 3 per cent of the population – who live in the north-east of the country.

Emirates, the world’s largest long-haul carrier, has made no secret of its desire to expand in the subcontinent. A news bulletin produced by the airline in September named India as the “world’s largest aviation market, with passenger numbers growing by around 20 per cent each year”.

Emirates said it has no knowledge of the apparent rejection by the Indian government.

“We are not aware of the reported talks which, in any case happen at an intergovernmental level,” an Emirates spokeswoman said.

“Emirates serves India under the currently permitted rights without any issues.”

Flydubai, which serves six destinations in India, said it has intentions to launch services in the north-east. “India is a very important market for flydubai. We continuously look at opportunities to ‎expand our operations in the market and better serve passengers between the two countries,” Sudhir Sreedharan, vice president of ‎commercial operations at flydubai said.

Any discussions regarding agreements are done at the government level and not by the airlines, he said.

Indian airlines achieved their 36th consecutive month of double-digit traffic growth in October with traffic predominantly driven by sizeable increases in the number of domestic routes served, according to Iata.

Yet, while airports in India’s western, central and southern regions have grown rapidly over the past decade, those in the north-east, including Guwahati, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Bagdogra, Imphal, Silchar and Agartala in the eight north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, remain underserved.

Aviation analyst Mark Martin, founder and chief executive of Martin Consulting in Dubai, described the north-east region as a “potential economic powerhouse” for which aviation could be a key enabler, in a report for the Indian Chambers for Service Industry in August this year.

“India’s North East States are underserved and even more since 2013 when the political focus has been on core populous states,” according to Mr Martin.

“Steps taken by flydubai [and other carriers] to increase connectivity is welcome as we believe it will help shape both socio-economic and macroeconomic development for the region.”