After nearly a year of demanding India revise its decade-old air services pact with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the country’s Ambassador to India Ahmed Abdul Rahman AlBanna on Monday said he expected talks to start within the next two months.
This will allow an increase in the number of flights between the two countries, which stand at 1,068 a week, with around 400 flights by UAE carriers and rest by Indian ones.
Back in October last year, the government had decided not to allow this after domestic carriers objected, saying their international plans would be hit. But with the sudden grounding of Jet Airways, India’s second-largest carrier, airlines from UAE, along with those from Singapore, Qatar, and China, have restarted lobbying for more fight slots.
“I’ve met Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and communicated the serious demand of UAE-based carriers to expand the pact, as we have spare capacity and are willing to grow. Both sides will meet very soon and revisit the agreement as well as the four sectoral agreements that are part of the main pact,” said AlBanna.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a roadshow showcasing Dubai Startup Hub. Emirati airlines have significant capacities in cargo, and lack of a revised pact hampers growth in cargo shipments as well, he hinted.
Currently, under the main pact, four sectoral agreements covering flights to and from the four major cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras al Khaimah in the Emirates, also remain active. Currently, 168,000 seats are shared by airlines from both nations in a week. But sources in the know said Emirati airlines would not settle for anything less than an additional 50,000 seats on the Dubai route and 15,000 seats on the Sharjah route.
The UAE has developed airports in major cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi as transit hubs, with connecting flights to a vast network of cities across West Asia, Europe, and Africa. “More than 90 million passengers go through Dubai International Airport, but only 16 million stay back in the city. So, a massive 74 million, spread across the world,” Omar Khan, director-International Offices at Dubai Chambers, said.
About 55 per cent of Indian tourists use the UAE as a transit hub. The airlines are also looking for a more diversified set of locations to operate from, including Goa and Coimbatore.
Energy and food
On rising hostilities between Iran and the US, which has resulted in India’s access to cheaper Iranian crude oil being cut off, AlBanna said the UAE has promised New Delhi that it will step up to protect India’s fuel security.
“The UAE has promised and assured India that they will cover any shortage of oil that it might face because of the situation (US sanctions on Iran). It has been done in the past and we commit to India the same thing now,” he said.
After taking charge, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had discussions with various Arab nations regarding oil security and rising prices. Last week, he spoke to his Saudi counterpart Khalid Al-Falih regarding the status of Saudi Arabian investments In India and also seeking the West Asian nation’s intervention to keep oil prices reasonable globally.
The UAE has also sought to sign a food security agreement with India, with investments in the food processing sector, AlBanna added. In return, New Delhi will ensure food security to UAE, which already imports significant quantities of rice and cereals. Talks had started when UAE Minister of State for Food Security Mariam Almheiri visited India earlier this year and good progress has been made, AlBanna said.