x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

India frustrates Air Arabia

Air Arabia's expansive ambitions in India are being held back by red tape preventing it from securing the rights it needs to launch more flights into the country.

Air Arabia had been asking Indian aviation authorities for additional rights. Jeff Topping / The National
Air Arabia had been asking Indian aviation authorities for additional rights. Jeff Topping / The National

MUMBAI // Air Arabia's expansive ambitions in India are being held back by red tape preventing it from securing the rights it needs to launch more flights into the country.

The Sharjah-based low-cost airline already serves a significant portion of India, flying to 13 airports - including New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Jaipur.

"For the last two years we haven't grown in this market and we've been running at about 98 per cent seat factor, simply because we're not being granted any more rights into India," said Adel Ali, the chief executive of Air Arabia.

The carrier had been asking Indian aviation authorities for additional rights "about twice a month", he added. "There are so many other airports in India that we would like to fly to and hopefully we would be allowed to."

A number of countries, including in the Middle East, were reluctant to offer more rights to foreign carriers because they want ed to protect their national carriers, said Mr Ali.

"We wait for the next government-to-government discussion in which we would like to get some more seats into India and if we are granted some more seats by the Indian authorities, we will expand. The difficulty I have is not being able to put numbers because I don't know what the Indian government or the Indian civil aviation authorities will grant us at the next round of talks, when it happens."

Air Arabia had set its sights on some of the underserved destinations in India, said Mr Ali.

"One of the airports for example that we wanted to operate to last year was Chandigarh… and once we get clearance and more traffic rights, we will operate."

Although the government last month announced that it was opening up the aviation sector to up to 49 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) from foreign airlines, Air Arabia had not had any discussions about investing in any carriers in India and was not looking at taking a stake in an Indian carrier, said Mr Ali. "It's too early," he added.

"I think the fact that FDI has been opened up is good news. I'm sure, with the size of this country, the size of the travelling public and the potential growth, a lot of airlines will be looking at it."

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