The gradual re-opening of India’s routes to international flights is the best possible break for UAE airlines after the sudden stoppage of services to the UK and uncertain demand from rest of Europe.

The question now is how soon will India allow these full flight services to resume? “Normal scheduled international flight resumption isn’t expected until the summer at least,” is what one airline industry source had to say.

Currently, India’s routes are pre-dominantly being served predominantly by Air India, the national airline, as well as domestic carriers.

Airlines such as Emirates also operate, but the frequencies are extremely curtailed. On the services that are available, the Dubai carrier has been offering highly competitive rates, dropping below Dh1,000 on the hugely influential Mumbai sector.

Plans are there

India’s government officials have confirmed there will be a further opening up of international air travel.

“The Ministry of Civil Aviation may take a decision in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs based on the assessment of the situation,” said the government in its new guidelines to contain the virus.

While India extended its ban on international commercial flights until February 28, dedicated cargo flights and those allowed by the civil aviation regulator under the bilateral air bubble deals with select countries will continue to operate.

Put a halt

India suspended all incoming and outgoing international flights as well as domestic air travel in March 2020 as part of one of the toughest lockdown measures to combat COVID-19. Flights to and from India have since resumed in a phased manner with about 20 odd countries under temporary travel agreements, which are also known as ‘air bubbles’.

Check on expectations

“India opening is the only piece of better news for some time,” said Andrew Charlton, Managing Director of Aviation Advocacy. “It will help, but it will not replace – the market mix is different and it will take time to rebuild.”

Hard hit

It was the UK Government’s decision that is particularly hurting UAE carriers.

Last Thursday, flights were temporarily suspended following the UK’s decision to add UAE to its travel ban. The move essentially shut down one of the world’s busiest air routes.

This is the latest setback for UAE’s carriers, which were slowly getting back up into near operational mode after the pandemic decimated global travel demand.

“The UK-UAE market is very high yielding, and even with the pandemic, Emirates had started to ramp up flights to the UK on the back on demand,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst, StrategicAero Research. “In short, this is a bitter financial blow to the likes of British Airways, Emirates and Etihad.”

Keep them parked

These new restrictions will “force Emirates and Etihad to either redeploy capacity or park jets until the situation changes,” said Ahmad.

“In short, shoring up revenues may not be possible since demand everywhere globally is weak – it’s more about controlling costs and expenditure. Parking jets may be the only answer in the near term.”