India’s booming aviation sector is opening up new horizons for foreign carriers. With Indian passenger traffic set to touch 40 million passengers by 2010, foreign carriers are lining up aggressive expansion plans.
Foreign airlines, which recently entered the Indian skies, are adding new destinations. Close on the heels of launching its Delhi-Helsinki flight, Finland-based Finnair has announced a new Mumbai-Helsinki flight starting June. Similarly, American carrier Continental Airlines too will be starting a non-stop flight to Mumbai from October after introducing a similar service to Delhi last year. Sri Lankan Airlines recently introduced double daily flight connecting Mumbai, Qatar Airways will increase frequency to Delhi.
UAE’sEtihad Airways will add two destinations in Kerala apart from increasing frequencies to Mumbai and Delhi. Established airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines have no immediate plans to increase frequencies out of Mumbai and Delhi. These airlines now operate multiple flights in and out of these two prime destinations.
Currently out of 260 members of International Air Transport Association (IATA), only 50 international carriers are operating their services to India and many are waiting in the wings. "The passenger traffic out of India to Finland has grown. Overnight stays by Indians in Finland has gone up by 45 per cent and we expect more business travellers and tourists to fly to Northern Europe in the coming years," said TainaTornstorm, Director, Indian Sub-continent, Finnair.
The current bout of expansions would help airlines to block preferred slots which could be a rarity in the next two years. The phenomenal increase in domestic aviation has squeezed available slots. And the Government’s move to encourage night flying by domestic carriers has triggered a scramble for night slots, considered to be the peak time for international travel.Though Finnair and Continental have got slots at the crowded Mumbai airport, others who may come in later may not be fortunate. There are worries of slot crunch in future especially at the land locked Mumbai airport. Though Delhi airport is comparatively less stressed, airline officials speak about difficulty in getting slots during night hours.
"There is no certainty in getting slots after two years when everybody would be simultaneously looking at India to add flights. Development of alternate airport at Mumbai is still unclear, so it is better to have slots now or wait indefinitely," said an airline official.But KapilKaul, CEO, Indian Subcontinent and Middle East, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said, "The worries are unnecessary. But Mumbai is of big concern as modernisation is very difficult. It is still not clear how it will take shape due to the hurdles. The expansion of the airport in Mumbai and the second airport are crucial for the city’s competitiveness," Kaul added.
Meanwhile, Mumbai airport is gearing up to handle 21 per cent increase in international and 9 per cent increase in domestic flights in the summer schedule.