Dubai air traffic booms, thanks to desi flyers

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NEW DELHI: Opinion polls may be showing the UPA on a weak wicket this election season, but there’s one place the Manmohan Singh administration can win a popularity contest — the Gulf.

UPA’s extremely liberal grant of flying rights to Dubai, which was topped up in the last days of UPA II, is providing a significant boost to footfalls at Dubai airport.

A statement issued by Dubai Airports on Monday said that 62.8 lakh passengers passed through Dubai International airport this March.

“Regionally, the Indian subcontinent again recorded the highest growth in passenger numbers in March (1,12,953 passengers), followed by Western Europe, the
GCC and Asia. India remained the top destination country (7,51,390 passengers) during the month, followed by Saudi Arabia (5,18,555) and the UK (4,60,529),” said Dubai Airports, which owns and manages the operation of both of Dubai’s airports — Dubai International and Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central.

The rise in footfalls of Indians is not surprising as UPA hiked the flying rights on India-Dubai sector from 18,400 seats a week in May 2007 to 54,200 seats in March 2010. In February, UPA-II gave a “parting gift” of 11,000 more seats to Dubai.

“Last year, UPA-II agreed to hike the 13,000 weekly seats Abu Dhabi’s Etihad had by an additional 37,000 in a phased manner by 2015-end. The twin cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi will between them have over a lakh seats per week to and from India. That kind of onslaught will mean serious trouble for Indian carriers, especially Air India,” said an airline official.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation had said last month that the weekly entitlements for UAE carriers will increase to over 1,35,000 seats by 2016. “Including the points of call available to Jet Airways, hubs in the UAE can be fed from 26 points in India … it dwarfs the access offered to any single other country, and almost as much as all European countries combined which have just over 160,000 seats available to them. In addition, the majority of the Indian bilateral entitlements to Abu Dhabi are expected to be utilized by Jet operating a coordinated network and schedule with Etihad. As a result the number of weekly seats feeding hubs in the UAE is likely to be closer to 1,70,000-1,75,000,” CAPA had said in a report.

Industry insiders believe that this renewed threat from Gulf carriers forced Star Alliance to agree to accept Air India into its fold, despite serious reservations earlier. Other alliances are also eyeing to get an Indian airline as member. The Tata JVs with Singapore Airlines and AirAsia are expected to be the rare Indian airline with the financial muscle to take on the might of the Gulf carriers.

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