Qatar and UAE account for 32% of international freight to and from India, according to aviation consultancy CAPA.
International cargo operations steadily grew in India in the last decade, CAPA India said in a presentation at the recent India – Middle East aviation dialogue webinar.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further given a boost to the industry, transporting critical pharmaceutical and perishable cargo, it said.
In the financial year 2020, almost 33mn passengers travelled by air between Indian and the Middle East, of which around 25mn were origin-destination (OD) passengers, and close to 8mn connecting to and from points in Europe, the Americas and Africa.
In 2019, India received around 350,000 foreign national arrivals from the Middle East. A sizeable 22% of them were medical tourists.
By financial year 2030, India’s international traffic is projected to increase between 50mn and 60mn annual passengers from pre-Covid. More than 30% of India’s international origin-destination traffic is long haul, but Indian carriers are expected to add only approximately 70 widebody aircraft. Preliminary data indicate this would address only 50% of incremental long haul demand.
"There are reasons to be bullish about the prospects for Indian airlines to expand and compete more aggressively on international routes. These include for example, the ongoing privatisation of Air India, the addition of large fleet of long-range narrow bodies and possible revival of Jet Airways.
"The impact on competition from Gulf airlines has been a key concern for Indian airlines, but as the market is expected to be very large by fiscal year 2030, it could accommodate Indian as well as Middle Eastern airlines without strategic conflicts."
As far as India and the Middle East, GCC region in particular are concerned, CAPA noted, “A win-win outcome is possible. The market will be large enough to enable both Indian and Middle Eastern carriers to co-exist and add value, without strategic conflict.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic has relieved pressure for additional seat entitlements. Now is the time to prepare a long-term strategic framework for market access that balances India's economic objectives with the aspirations of Indian carriers,” CAPA noted.
In contrast to India’s strengthening economic and strategic partnership with the Middle East region across multiple areas, the aviation relationship has been on pause. Most GCC markets have exhausted their bilateral entitlements several years ago, the webinar was told.
Addressing the event, Abdul Wahab Teffaha, secretary general, Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO) said “the Byzatine approach to bilaterals needs to be broken. Instead, there must be a clear aviation policy and objectives against which business plans of airlines seeking market access can be assessed.”
He stated, “Sometimes it is easier for airlines to argue that their competitors are predators, than to do the hard work that is required to be competitive themselves.”
Teffaha urged governments to "not only listen to airlines, but also to consumers and businesses."
Consumer interests should come above national interests, he said.
Adel Ali, Group CEO, Air Arabia Group, said he would like to see an ‘Open Skies’ agreement between India & the UAE as airlines are operating with more than 95% load factors, resulting in higher fares and passengers forced to fly via a third point.
“Consumers are losing out,” he noted.
Ali said the Air Arabia Group was "unable to expand in India for the last 10 years because of bilateral constraints". On the other hand, the UAE-based airline continued to expand elsewhere and found new markets instead.