IndiGo flies high in the Gulf route

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MUMBAI: The airspace from India to the Gulf is getting increasingly crowded with call signs from IndiGo. The country's biggest carrier by market-share is quietly, but aggressively, expanding in a region that sends the biggest worker remittances, and acts as a hub for onward journey to Europe or the eastern water margin of the US.
And losing out in the bargain are rivals such as Air India Express and Jet Airways, the latter reducing seat-capacity in flights to the Gulf, while the Gurgaon-based airline is doing just the reverse. IndiGo has increased its seat-capacity to the Gulf by 40% in the past one year. It now offers 26,460 weekly seats from India to Dubai, Doha, Sharjah and Muscat, the airline said.
Indigo has started flights connecting Chennai and Kozhikode with Muscat, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram with Sharjah, and Mumbai and Delhi with Doha. Regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has allowed Indigo to further increase seats, which can go up to 31,500 a week. That would mean a 66% jump in one year.
By contrast, Jet Airways has decreased its weekly capacity to the Middle-East by 14% to 51,100 seats between the last winter schedule and the ongoing summer schedule, said a source in the know. In the last few months, Jet has stopped flights connecting Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Goa to Abu Dhabi. It has also withdrawn services connecting Mangalore and Kozhikode to Sharjah, and Thiruvananthapuram with Dubai, sources said.
According to Indian aviation norms, the financial year is divided into two schedules of seven and five months. At the start of each schedule, airlines revise their flight operations — services, slsots, seat capacity — after approval from the DGCA. For its part, Jet reiterated that its dominant status would be strengthened by its partnership with Etihad.
"Jet Airways remains committed to the Gulf region. Together with our strategic partner Etihad Airways, we are the dominant carrier, both in terms of market and capacity share. Our growth plans for the Gulf region remain unchanged. We have consistently increased capacity into selected Gulf routes by 5-6% per annum over the past years, and will continue to do so in this new financial year."
India's aviation relations with the Gulf have been more dynamic than with any other region or country in the world. Indian carriers have historically milked the labour traffic and the SME traffic flying to middle-eastern markets, while premium Gulf carriers have flown rich Indian passengers to the rest of the world. To be sure, Jet still offers almost double the capacity of IndiGo on the region.
The gap widens further when Jet's services are clubbed with those of its strategic partner Etihad, which has the right to offer 51,000 weekly seats to India. Etihad owns 24% of Jet.
Yet, IndiGo is expanding much faster than others. It operates flights to just four Gulf sectors compared to Jet's 10. The airline already offers more capacity than its Indian peers in Dubai and Muscat.
In these two sectors, it has long toppled Air India Express, the regionalinternational subsidiary of national carrier Air India, and primarily a Gulf flyer. "Moreover, IndiGo now offers 2,520 seats to Doha.
It has DGCA's approval for 7,560. If it expands to its fully approved capacity to the city, it will beat Air India Express (2,604) and be neckto-neck with Jet Airways (7,672)," said Habibullah Ubaidullah, an independent aviation researcher and consultant. Also, as part of its Gulf expansion, IndiGo has focused on traffic from southern India.
"DGCA figures showed the airline has more than doubled its weekly capacity between south India and the Gulf in the last one year to 13,820 seats," said Ubaidullah. That can be expanded to 18,860. Jet offers 15,288 seats, he added.

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