x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

India moves to exclude foreign A380s

Indian authorities are reluctant to allow foreign carriers such as Emirates Airline to introduce the A380 superjumbo.

An Emirates Airline Airbus A380.
An Emirates Airline Airbus A380.

Gulf airlines that have ordered the Airbus A380 face headwinds from India, which has moved to block foreign airlines from flying the superjumbo into the country.

The civil aviation ministry has taken a protectionist stance against the German carrier Lufthansa, which had planned to fly its A380s into India from next month.

India's aviation ministry has not approved the flights, and an official told India's Economic Times newspaper: "An A380 coming into the country means cutting off the business of domestic carriers. We cannot allow that."

The government has also hinted that airport infrastructure is not adequate to handle the A380, the world's biggest commercial jet.

The development could be cause for concern in the Gulf, where airlines have designed much of their networks around servicing the long-haul travel needs of India's growing population of more than 1 billion, and have ordered more than 100 A380s worth tens of billions of dollars.

The A380, which seats 525 passengers, was designed to serve global capitals where airport congestion favours the use of high-capacity aircraft. This includes Mumbai and New Delhi, where aircraft often have to circle in long holding patterns to await landing clearance.

In the Gulf, only Emirates Airline is flying the A380, but several other airlines are preparing for deliveries of the aircraft in the coming years. Emirates operates 15 of the superjumbos and expects to receive 75 more by the end of the decade. Etihad Airways has ordered 10 of the aircraft while Qatar Airways has firm commitments for five planes and has said it could order more this year.

Emirates has so far downplayed the immediate impact of India's policy, and analysts said the carrier was taking a long-term view of the situation.

"India is a key market for Emirates and one where we may possibly look at deploying a superjumbo when the time is right," said Majid al Mualla, the carrier's senior vice president for western Asia and the Indian Ocean. "Any decision to deploy an A380 is dependent upon passenger demand on a particular route, as well as the ability of specific airports to handle the aircraft."

Laurie Price, the director of aviation at the UK consultancy Mott MacDonald, said that "at some stage the whole idea of deregulation and open skies will permeate the region. It is going to be when, not if."

Mr Price expected Emirates simply to deploy its superjumbos to other markets in the meantime.

"An aberration in a bilateral authority is not going to take away the eventual opportunity that will manifest itself in five, 10 or 15 years," he said, adding the changes were likely to come sooner rather than later.

John Strickland, the director of JLS Consulting in the UK, said flying the A380 into India would not be an "optimum regular deployment" of the aircraft for Emirates.

"The A380 is designed to work most efficiently on much longer sectors than the three and four hours between UAE and India," he said.

That is true of most of Emirates A380 destinations such as Toronto and Seoul, although it does fly the plane to the Saudi city of Jeddah.

Emirates may have revealed its ambitions in India last year when it became the first airline to fly an A380 into that country, during a one-day celebration of the opening of Terminal 3 at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. At the time, Emirates hinted on its website that Delhi was a "target city" for the A380.

"We've taken the first step towards that direction as we prepare to take the A380 to New Delhi," it said.