United Arab Emirates (UAE) is officially the aviation hub for Indian globetrotters.
The two Dubai-based airlines — full service Emirates and low-cost flydubai — together flew almost as many people in and out of India last year as Air India. India's national carrier flew just 2,696 people more than Dubai's airlines.
Directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) figures for 2014 show that the three airlines of United Arab Emirates (UAE) — Emirates, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad and flydubai —flew more people to and from India than any standalone Indian carrier. The pre-dominance of Gulf carriers is evident from the fact that they top the charts for top airlines in India in terms of international market share.
"The western world protects the interests of its airlines. UPA made India a feeder for Gulf airlines. These airlines have access to all the 18 international airports in India. They carry traffic from even our relatively small towns to their hubs in the Gulf and from there offer them access to anywhere in the world. Indian carriers, on the other hand, are struggling to survive," said a senior Indian carrier official.
In fact, Dubai last year emerged as the busiest international airport in the world — pipping London Heathrow for the first time from that pedestal — with more than a little help from Indian travellers. Dubai handled 7 crore international flyers in 2014, while Heathrow had 6.8 crore, as there was an increase of 9.3 lakh flyers to and from the India subcontinent. The lion's share of this increase was from India.
The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation had recently said that the weekly entitlements for UAE carriers will increase to over 135,000 (weekly) seats by 2016. "Including the points of call available to Jet AirwaysBSE -5.97 percent, hubs in the UAE can be fed from 26 points in India... it dwarfs the access offered to any single other country, and almost as much as all European countries combined which have just over 160,000 seats available to them.
In addition, the majority of the Indian bilateral entitlements to Abu Dhabi are expected to be utilized by Jet operating a coordinated network and schedule with Etihad. As a result the number of weekly seats feeding hubs in the UAE is likely to be closer to 170,000-175,000," CAPA had said in the report.
The last government and the present one plan to remove the condition that an Indian carrier must be at least five-year-old and have 20 planes in its fleet (called 5/20) to fly abroad. "Our existing carriers are growing as per their plans. Having new airlines in India and making it easier for them to fly abroad is the only way to increase our airlines' share in the pie of international traffic to and from the country," said an official.
But 'old'Indian carriers are opposed to relaxing 5/20 for new players. "As our history shows, we remain more content fighting among ourselves than uniting to take on the might of foreign players," said a source. With such deep fissures in the Indian aviation market, international airlines — mainly in the Gulf — will continue to rule our skies.