Gulf carriers such as Qatar Airways and Emirates have done an “exceptional job” in serving the Indian market, and passengers have benefited from their presence, according to Willie Walsh, Director General of the global airlines body IATA. On October 9, 2020, then Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri had said that the time had come to send a loud and clear message that foreign airlines’ flights will not be allowed at the expense of Indian airlines.
A significant number of international passengers from India use Gulf carriers like Emirates and Qatar Airways to travel to the US, Canada, and Europe. “The Gulf carriers, in particular, have done an exceptional job, serving the Indian market,” Walsh, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in Boston last week.
The consumers have benefited because they have connectivity in the Middle-Eastern hubs that Indian air carriers typically wouldn’t have had, he told PTI. The Indian government was looking to put in place certain systems to boost long-haul international flights of Indian carriers to places such as Europe and the US, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had said on September 30.
“If the view is that you need Indian carriers to serve that market, I don’t think you are going to get the same amount of choice (number of flights and number of cities connected), and certainly not in the short term,” Walsh said. “Because serving India to North America directly is different to serving India over the Middle-Eastern hub into North America. The number of options (number of flights or number of cities connected) you have is significantly greater when you are going through one of the Middle-Eastern hubs,” Walsh said on the sidelines of the 77th Annual General Meeting of IATA, which took place in Boston.
The Gulf carriers have traditionally served a very price-sensitive segment of the Indian market, he noted. “They have been serving India to North America with relatively low yields and traffic, where direct services were difficult to be profitable. So, I think they play a very important role in providing connectivity to India,” he added. Yield means average revenue earned from a passenger for each km travelled by him or her on the plane. “So, I look back to my own experience when I was at British Airways, we used to carry a lot of passengers from India over Heathrow into North America. The problem there is that the Heathrow airport (in London) is the most expensive hub airport in the world,” he mentioned.
So, British Airways is taking passengers with technically low yield – over an expensive and difficult hub of Heathrow airport – into the US, he noted. “That market is much better served by the likes of Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline. Now, it is Qatar Airways and Emirates, which have a very efficient hub with relatively low cost,” he stated.
So, the problem for carriers like British Airways was that although there was a lot of volume in terms of traffic numbers, the yield was always quite low, he stated. “If you are trying to transfer people over an expensive and inefficient hub, it is very difficult to do that profitably,” he noted.
“So, I think the Gulf hubs are fantastic in terms of their structure. The airlines, Emirates and Qatar, are really good. They know how to serve their market. And without a doubt, the Indian consumer would have clearly suffered, because they provided a lot of capacity into the market, and a lot of different cities have been served over the hub,” he shared.
Scheduled international passenger services have been suspended in India since March 23, 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, special flights have been operating since July last year under bilateral “air bubble” arrangements between India and approximately 28 countries.