Last week, India and Dubai agreed to increase weekly seat entitlements between the two countries by 20 per cent from the current 54,200 seats. The increase will benefit both Indian and Dubai-based airlines, but as the latter had already used up its quota, there was more keenness to get additional seats.
After a long time (six years to be precise), India used the opportunity to get something more in return. It insisted and got a change-of-gauge facility for Indian carriers at the existing Dubai airport. In other words, passengers flying on, say, Air India from various Indian destinations to Europe via Dubai will not have to change airports. The Emirates had offered its other airport 40 miles away for this facility claiming the existing Dubai airport was clogged.
This is something that Emirates, for instance, does at Dubai airport and so, from now, India-based airlines can do too. Yet in the last round of increase in bilateral seat entitlements, India had let go of the opportunity, instead relying on correspondence to get the rights. Those never happened. The slack was pointed out by the government auditor. Despite the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) criticism in its report on the civil aviation sector for 2011, nothing had moved till now.
That same report had made a misplaced criticism of larger seat share, saying it hurt national carrier Air India. It omitted that since 2006, the fares in this route have declined by close to 20 per cent as more seats chased passengers.
Dubai has agreed this time as they needed the rise in seats to launch Airbus 380 service to India to compete with the Jet-Etihad combine. In April 2013, Etihad has bought a 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways, opening up potential connections from 23 cities in the country to the world via Abu Dhabi challenging Emirates’ top position in carrying international passenger from India.
India has also won the right to change airports at the UAE without extra charges when there are reports of repair and other work at Dubai. These were unheard of earlier.
Mihir is a principal correspondent based in New Delhi