Qatar Airways plans fierce expansion in India to beat Gulf rivals

Doha-based Qatar Airways has sought a significant increase in capacity entitlements and access to seven new cities as it aims to counter the growth of its rivals — Etihad Airways and Emirates — in India.

Documents reviewed by Business Standard show that Qatar is planning to start direct flights to several cities where it doesn’t have a presence, while increasing frequency by four times on its current routes.

Recently, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Akbar Al-Baker had announced starting a fully-owned airline in India, signalling an ambitious expansion plan in the country.
Qatar has asked for a weekly quota of 66,374 seats, up from 24,292 at present. The company has also sought government permission to land in seven additional cities, apart from the current 14. It also wants a nod from the authorities for code-sharing with third-country airlines.

The goal is to fulfil this expansion plan within four IATA (International Air Transport Association) schedule seasons, it is learnt.

The new locations that Qatar Airways wants access to are Pune, Mangaluru, Lucknow, Jaipur, Tiruchirapalli, Chandigarh and Madurai, while the frequency of flights could be stepped up from metros such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Qatar Airways did not respond to a detailed query sent by this newspaper. A liberal code-sharing policy with third-country airlines will allow Qatar Airways to boost traffic from Indian cities it does not have access to, through partner airlines via Doha.

A 10-member Qatari delegation, led by the chairman of the country’s civil aviation authority, Abdullah bin Nasser Turki Al-Subaey, and Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker in a meeting with the Indian authorities last November, had made these demands.

During the meeting, Al-Subaey referred to a letter he had written to Civil Aviation Secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey in August 2016, expressing his disappointment that Qatar Airways had failed to get any enhancement to its share of bilateral rights since 2009, while Gulf rivals Emirates, Etihad and FlyDubai had been granted additional seats several times during this period.

The last talks to enhance traffic rights between India and Qatar were held in 2009, and since that period, several bilateral seat enhancements had been successfully concluded with many neighbouring countries, Al-Subaey had said. Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the home countries of Etihad and Emirates, respectively, have 51,000 and 66,504 seats. The Indian authorities subsequently decided that the request of Qatar Airways would be considered by a committee headed by the Cabinet secretary. “Since designated airlines of India are utilising only 38 per cent of the total capacity on India-Qatar sector, requirement of Qatar would be taken to the committee for its consideration. Any decision in this regard would be communicated shortly,” the Ministry of External Affairs wrote to the Embassy of Qatar, according to the letter reviewed by Business Standard.

graph The National Civil Aviation Policy-2016 had clearly said that bilateral negotiations for enhancement of traffic rights can only be done when Indian airlines have utilised 80 per cent of their entitlements. Experts said that Qatar Airways’ expansion plans and its decision to open a new airline in India should be seen in synergy. “The airline is keen to develop additional networks and pull in greater traffic to and through its new hub in Doha, and with India having a growing population now using air travel, Qatar Airways wants to ensure it is in the thick of the mix rather than be an outside observer. Any new airline it sets up in India will have synergies and connectivity options for passengers with Qatar Airways to provide better travel solutions,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.

While Dubai’s seat entitlements increased from 10,400 to just six cities in 2003-04 to 54,200 seats a week and 14 cities by 2008-09, Abu Dhabi gained through traffic feed from Jet Airways in which its national airline Etihad owns 24 per cent stake.

However, the Qatar Airways’ demand could face resistance from domestic airlines as they fear deep-pocket airlines from the Gulf would skew the Indian market. A private airline executive said that granting further access to Qatar Airways was against the policy of developing India as a global hub.

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Qatar Airways plans fierce expansion in India to beat Gulf rivals

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