Private Indian carriers may soon launch GCC flights


The lifting of a moratorium on certain Indian airlines from flying abroad could bring a flood of new carriers serving the Gulf.

The government’s three-year policy of insulating the foreign routes of Air India and Indian Airlines from its domestic competitors ends in January 2008, according to Gaurang Shetty, vice-president of marketing at Jet Airways, one of India’s largest airlines.
When that happens, Jet and Kingfisher Airlines will both launch routes to Dubai, Muscat, and other Gulf cities, according to executives from both companies. The new competition will be felt by the incumbent airlines from India and the UAE alike, raising questions of whether the market is big enough for new players.
“We have plans to operate in the Gulf if the [Indian] government gives us permission,” said Shetty, during an aviation conference in Vancouver on Monday. “We’re very keen to go to markets such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as there are a couple of million migrant workers from India in the Middle East right now.”
Jet, which operates more than 340 flights to destinations in India as well as Colombo, Bangkok, Kathmandu, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and London, will allocate A330 aircraft for the new routes, Shetty said.
The marketing vice-president said it was too early to name a launch date. “It all depends on when we get the clearances.”
Kingfisher, which recently acquired Air Deccan, will transfer around 10 Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft to fly to Gulf states as early as January, according to Sudhan Thomas, a regional director at Kingfisher.
Kingfisher’s current fleet of 71 planes, post-merger, serves a network of 69 cities in India. Dubai and Muscat would be top priorities for Kingfisher, followed by Abu Dhabi, Thomas said.
“We will know in the next couple of months. Now that the policy looks to be changing, we’ll start to work on this more closely.”
VK Verma, commercial director at Air India, said his airline already had an extensive network in the Gulf, and welcomed the entry of at least two competitors in the next year.
Like several other Indian carriers, Air India is in consolidation phase, and will merge with Indian Airlines by year-end.
“This is a massive market, and there’s plenty of room for new competition,” Verma said.