Emirates wants to fly to more destinations in India but one thing is restricting the airline from doing so. The airline said that government authorities are working to overcome this.
Exhausted bilateral rights
Emirates currently operates 170-weekly flights to nine destinations in India. These are Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Under the current air services bilateral agreement between India and the United Arab Emirates, Emirates is allowed 66,000-seats-a-week, which it is already using, meaning that the rights are already exhausted.
The airline wants to expand and add additional destinations in India, for which it has sought 50,000 additional seats-a-week. The bilateral agreement between India and the UAE was last expanded nearly a decade ago. While carriers from UAE have already exhausted their flying rights, Indian carriers are also very close to exhausting their rights.
Historically, Dubai has been the city which sees the maximum demand from Indian travellers and it is natural for an airline like Emirates, which has been the largest foreign carrier in India since a long time, to demand additional rights to expand in the country.
Emirates says that it wants to start flying to cities like Surat, Amritsar, Lucknow and Goa MOPA and later to Navi Mumbai Airport and Jewar Airport in India whenever they open.
In an interview with Times of India, Mohammad Sarhan, Vice President for India and Nepal, Emirates, said:
We are working hard with the civil aviation (authorities) in India and the UAE to try to increase the bilaterals for airlines of both sides and passengers to benefit. We are operating at peak allowed capacity in Delhi under the sub-limits of the existing bilaterals. We have been in consultation (for enhancing bilaterals). India and UAE are in talks for a (virtually) free trade agreement and airlines can make that more effective with more flights carrying more cargo.
He added that the Middle Eastern carrier will not look at inorganic growth by investing in an Indian carrier.
We recently signed code share with United, which used to be our competitor. Things can change. Though nothing at the moment, at some point we can have a strong code share partnership with an Indian carrier (the one with SpiceJet did not take off). The relationship between India and UAE, between Prime Minister Modi and our top leadership, is amazing. We continue to request both the governments fro enhanced bilaterals. We are not interested (in picking up stake in Indian carrier).he said.
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As aforementioned, Emirates has long been the largest foreign carrier in India. Air India, under new ownership of Tata Group, also has big plans for international expansion and it will certainly look at expanding its market share in India-UAE market. On this, Sarhan said the following:
We are a dynamic airline and always keep an eye on our competitors. We do have to really react but do our own route modifications. At the moment we do not see anything to worry about. We operate in several markets that have strong airlines. There are always some consumers who like to go nonstop and others who want to take break to stretch their legs. We always differentiate ourselves on our product and services. It’s not just about a direct flight but also the product. We welcome healthy competition.
Sarhan said that Indian carriers are not taking full advantage of their share of pie. He said that the expansion of bilateral rights will not only be good for the airlines who can delivery capacity when required but also to travellers who will have more and much better options when choosing an airline to fly. He says that the Indian consumer suffers by the limited bilateral as they have to pay more while in return, the product may also be not that good.
Emirates has begun retrofitting 120 aircraft – both the Airbus A380s and Boeing B777s – with its new Premium Economy cabin. Sarhan added that Mumbai will be the first in India to get the Premium Economy cabin as and when more number of aircraft are retrofitted.
Emirates has long been demanding additional bilateral rights. In the current scenario where Emirates only has wide-body aircraft such as the A380 and B777, the airline only has one option to expand in India under the current bilateral rights. That is to reduce the frequency to existing destinations and introduce new destinations. Now that is a complex thing to do as reducing capacity in a market which already has that much demand to support the deployed capacity is not what an airline will want to do.
The other way around is what Emirates wants to do, that is to expand bilateral rights and then it is up to the airlines m how much capacity to deploy where. This requires the support of both the countries’ governments, whereby they both agree to expand the bilateral rights or sign an open skies agreement where there is no limit as to how many flights an airline can operate between two countries.
Emirates has the support needed from the UAE government and it will surely push the governments. However, it remains to be seen when will be see the expansion of bilateral rights between India and UAE. It will surely be sooner than later, given an airline as big as Emirates is pushing for the same.
Meanwhile, Emirates recently announced that it will open a new pilot training centre for A350 and B777X pilots.
Featured image by Emirates
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