Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Why India’s airlines are missing out big time by ignoring Central Asian republics

Last week, FICCI organised a webinar to look at cargo corridor potential between India and the Central Asian republics. Since the republics became independent in 1991 after the fall of Soviet Union, every government in the country has tried to have an outreach with the five “stans”.

While some of the ambitious projects like TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline haven’t taken off, trade and lately tourism has zoomed upwards. In this context, comments by the chief strategy and revenue officer of IndiGo were also widely reported with the hope that India’s largest airline could potentially explore flights to Central Asia when things normalize.

While India has direct connectivity to all five republics—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan—it is a shame that it is all driven by carriers from those countries. Indian carriers have been reluctant to venture into any of these countries.

The recent repatriation flights shed light on what they have been missing. Air India, SpiceJet and IndiGo, which fly to some points in these countries, raised eyebrows when a large number of students, workers and white-collar workers were repatriated from places beyond the capital cities.
Kazakh airline Air Astana started operations to India in 2004 and has come a long way investing in the network over the years. In the early days, Air Astana, Uzbekistan Airways and Turkmenistan Airlines were looked at cheaper flight options from North India in general and Punjab in particular. Tajikistan-based Somon Air launched non-stop flights between capital Dushanbe and New Delhi in December 2019 while Avia Traffic Company operated flights between Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and New Delhi.
Air Astana announced services to Mumbai while Uzbekistan Airways had already launched services until COVID-19 struck the aviation market. The last two years have not been particularly great for the connectivity since 2019 saw disruption due to airspace closure by Pakistan. Indian carriers currently operate charters and few flights under Vande Bharat Mission and Air Astana and Uzbekistan Airways are operating cargo-only flights to India.
25/08/20 Ameya Joshi/moneycontrol.com
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