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Many Asian carriers, such as Air-Asia and Singapore Airlines (through Vistara), are now banking on flying international routes through their joint ventures in India, to grab a part of this burgeoning mid-east and western markets.
India, based on the Airport Council International, would be one of the fastest growing air passenger markets in the world (2016-2040) and would move from number five position in 2016 to number three by 2040, with a growth of 7.5 per cent. Analysts said Asian carriers can get a piece of that action only by operating their airlines from India.
“It’s a geographical reality,” explained a senior executive who consults with leading airlines. “The Southeast Asian market is tourist-heavy from India, with some business travellers. So it cannot sustain so many flights. But a range of passengers fly in the West Asian sector — businessmen, tourists, labourers and also ethnic Indians. It cuts across classes — poor; the very rich, who go onward to the US and Europe; and the middle class. Hardly anyone travels to the US from the east. That explains why Southeast Asian carriers now want to get a share in that pie from India.”
The passenger share of international travellers carried by domestic and international carriers between the two regions has gone down in the past five years — from 17.68 per cent in 2012-13 to 16.33 per cent in 2016-17 — according to Directorate General of Civil Aviation data. In the corresponding period, the share of international passengers between West Asia and India jumped from 47.66 per cent in 2012-13 to 52.28 per cent in 2016-17.
Between July and September 2017, there was not a single Southeast Asian airline on the list of top 10 in terms of passengers handled to and from India. But there were four West Asian airlines on the list — Emirates, Oman, Etihad and Qatar Airlines. That was because while passenger growth between Southeast Asian and India has been 25 per cent (the average was 35 per cent) in the past five years, it was a staggering 48 per cent between India and West Asia.
The problem has been accentuated by the fact that many Southeast Asian countries do not have direct flights from India to, say, Cambodia, the Philippines or Vietnam. Myanmar has a connection only through Kolkata, and even a popular destination such as Bali does not have a direct flight from India. Airlines like Garuda of Indonesia has a small presence in the Indian market, limited to Mumbai currently.
In many ways, the high volumes have helped the West Asian carrier offer lower fares, attract more passengers and put in more planes. The governments in these countries subsidise aviation, giving them a big advantage, argued some.
Anil Kalsi, managing director of Ambe World Travels and former chairman of the Travel Agents Association of India, said: “The fares to Southeast Asia, like to Thailand, are at least 40 per cent to 50 per cent higher those to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, though the distances are the same.”
Kalsi also pointed out that visa on arrival across Asean would also go a long way in attracting more tourists.