Tuesday, December 01, 2020

India's 'air bubbles' are placing UAE airlines at a severe disadvantage

Dubai: India’s decision to extend its ban on scheduled commercial flights will further delay UAE airlines’ chances to pick up demand on these routes.

Because right now, India is only operating flights under ‘air bubble’ agreements and which gives the country’s airlines an advantage. It is now an open secret that these arrangements are a form of indirect support given to the country’s beleaguered airlines.

The ‘India-first’ approach on certain routes ensures that India’s carriers do not face direct competition from operators in the UAE or other countries. “In the near-term, foreign operators will suffer due to restrictions on flights by the government and a preference for direct flights by fliers,” said Sanjiv Kapoor, senior advisor at Alton Aviation.

India is yet to give a firm nod as to when it will resume all scheduled flights. As of now, there have been two extensions after all such services were cancelled last March as the country got down to curbing the spread of COVID-19. (Domestic services resumed from May 25.)

“The large flows of worker traffic will be disrupted by the continuing ban,” said John Strickland, Director of JLS Consulting.”

Even prior to the pandemic, blue-collar workers had a strong preference for Indian low-cost carriers. “Middle East low-cost carriers (LCC) are not making much headway as they are not viewed as attractive relative to Indian LCCs," said Kapoor. "And [they] are not as widely available or distributed in India - market presence and visibility are quite low.”

This might explain why Ras Al Khaimah Airport agreed to be Spicejet’s regional hub during a particularly difficult time for the industry. “The commencement of SpiceJet passenger flights into RAK Airport is a significant step forward in helping the UAE get back to a normal footing in the wake of the pandemic,” said Sanjay Khanna, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, in a statement last week.

“The Indian expatriate community in the UAE numbers almost 3.5 million people and constitutes 27 per cent of the population, making connectivity between our countries an imperative.”

01/12/20 John Benny/Gulf News

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