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India rebuffs UAE’s request for direct flights to northeast of the country

The expansion plans of carriers from the Arabian Gulf suffered a setback after India reportedly rebuffed Dubai’s requests for more direct flights to the northeast region of the country.

The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority reportedly requested India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation for permission to fly to northeastern airports without stopping in Delhi or Mumbai, under an “open sky” policy.

However, reports indicate that the request has been denied.

“We have decided against allowing any such access to Dubai,” said an official who requested to remain anonymous.

“The request has been rejected,” he flatly confirmed.

While the specific request has been rebuffed, there is no word yet if Dubai’s bilateral flying rights to other locales in India would be increased.

With a healthy passenger growth projection for India, Emirates and its low-cost partner flydubai seek to take advantage but could not do so after they exhausted their current bilateral quota of 65,000 seats each.

Air passenger demand in India soared 16% year-on-year in October. The increase was more than double the world demand growth of 7.2%, according to data from the International Air Transport Association.

IATA projections say that India will create an added 337 million new passengers over the next 20 years – from around 100 million in 2016 to 478 million by 2036 – making it the third fastest-growing domestic market, right after China and the United States.

“This is a narrow, sectoral decision that is not good for India or for Dubai,” said Andrew Charlton, the Managing Director at Geneva think tank, Aviation Advocacy.

“It is not good for [Dubai’s airlines] and over time, it will prove not to be good for India’s airlines, either,” Charlton added.

Dubai has been exhausting efforts to negotiate for expanded bilateral rights with India, the most recent was to allow its airlines to tap into market of the estimated 45 million who live in the north-east of the country.

Emirates has made it a goal to expand its operations in the subcontinent.

Emirates though, denied knowledge of the said rejection coming from India.

“We are not aware of the reported talks which, in any case happen at an intergovernmental level,” uttered an Emirates spokeswoman.

“Emirates serves India under the currently permitted rights without any issues.”

Flydubai, which operates six destinations in India, said it has plans to operate flights in the northeast.

“India is a very important market for flydubai. We continuously look at opportunities to ‎expand our operations in the market and better serve passengers between the two countries,” said Sudhir Sreedharan, Vice President of ‎Commercial Operations at flydubai.

While airports in India’s western, central and southern regions have experienced massive growth and development in the last 10 years, those in the northeast, namely Guwahati, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Bagdogra, Imphal, Silchar and Agartala in the eight north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, have been left wanting for more flights.

Aviation analyst Mark Martin, the founder and Chief Executive of Martin Consulting in Dubai, assessed the northeast region as a “potential economic powerhouse.” Aviation can play a key role in its development.

“India’s North East States are underserved and even more since 2013 when the political focus has been on core populous states,” said Martin.

“Steps taken by flydubai [and other carriers] to increase connectivity is welcome as we believe it will help shape both socio-economic and macroeconomic development for the region,” Martin added.

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