DUBAI: Air India’s budget carrier will stop operating flights between the United Arab Emirates and peak-demand destinations such as Mumbai and Delhi, in a major revamp of how its main unit will serve in the future.
Travel agencies in the UAE said the shift would reduce the number of low-cost flights and seats available for Indian expats looking to fly to Mumbai or Delhi.
Budget carrier Air India Express will now only fly from here to India’s second-tier cities. Meanwhile, flag carrier Air India will reduce flights to destinations such as Goa, Indore and Kozhikode. The Sharjah-Kozhikode route operated by Air India will also cease to exist.
“Passengers with booked flights (to Mumbai or Delhi with Air India Express) have been advised to rebook,” said PP Singh, regional manager for the Gulf, Middle East and Africa networks of the two Indian airlines.
This means that Air India will eventually operate only in India’s larger cities, leaving smaller city operations to Air India Express.
The move is part of a major overhaul of Air India’s global operations and has already placed a record number of orders for new aircraft. 450 weekly flights are operated by Air India and Air India Express within the Gulf Middle East and Africa (GMEA) region.
The airline has not yet confirmed whether the network tweaks are permanent changes, or if they can be modified after the summer. The changes will come into effect on March 26 as part of the airline’s 2023 summer schedule.
The number of seats has not changed
“These decisions are based on route performance and economics,” Singh said. “There has been no change to flight capacity or seat allocation.
“We’ve just rescheduled those flights and will be releasing our final summer timetable shortly.”
Air India is operating at 80% to 85% load factor and is heavily booked for travel this summer.
Limiting budget flight options?
Tour operators in the UAE are concerned that network adjustments could affect India-UAE fares during the peak summer season. “Summer ticket prices are already very high,” said a travel industry source. “Air India is the only airline that can transport wheelchair passengers and has greater cargo capacity.
“The lack of wide-body aircraft flying to more destinations in India will indirectly affect air ticket prices.”
For example, Air India’s Dubai-Delhi economy class fare is currently AED 978 (March 27-April 4). Summer fares on the same route from 1 July to 30 August have soared to Dh1,545 and are set to rise further.
During this period, the Air India Express fare is shown as Dh1,557.
No increase in air traffic rights
Air India’s announcement comes after the airline announced ambitious international network expansion plans and a mega-deal with Boeing and Airbus to buy 470 planes.
Air India’s expansion plans have also sparked speculation over the airline’s flying rights. On Tuesday, India’s Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia told Reuters that India was not considering increasing the UAE’s air traffic rights and wanted its domestic airlines to offer direct long-haul flights.
The UAE has urged India to increase the maximum number of seats between the two countries by 50,000 a week from about 65,000 today, but Scindia said, “at the moment, we are not planning to increase it”.
Speaking at a briefing with reporters on the sidelines of the CAPA India Aviation Summit in New Delhi on Tuesday, Emirates President Tim Clark urged India to accept an open skies agreement that would allow airlines to more effectively enter each other’s markets.
“There is a need for increased air access,” Clark said. “Demand there is very strong.”