With a lack of network coverage among airlines from neighbouring South Asian countries, Indian airlines are now looking to cash-in on sixth freedom rights by flying passengers from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to other destinations via New Delhi and Mumbai.
Foreign airlines have traditionally carried approximately 70% of all international traffic in and out of India, thanks to a mix of sixth freedom use – the right to carry passengers between two destinations via a third country – by major airlines such as Emirates, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines etc.
Jet Airways and Air India are now plotting a course to increase a share in this market, as they identify an increasing volume of connecting passengers from East and West to South Asian destinations.
Speaking to The Economic Times, a Jet Airways official said: “International traffic in and out of India is growing at 15% a year. Two-third of this traffic is carried by foreign airlines. Apart from focusing on direct traffic, our target is sixth freedom. This means people travelling between London and Bangkok, Kathmandu or Dhaka or Gulf and Saarc.”
Approximately 17% of Jet Airways’ 60-lakh annual international travellers last year were people flying between the Gulf and India, before taking connecting flights to and from places like Kathmandu, Dhaka. Air India says one lakh of its 30 lakh international travellers annually came from this segment and the airline has set a target of 1.25 lakh for this year.
These ambitions will be hampered however, by slow progress in infrastructure development, particularly in Mumbai, while hikes in airport tariffs at New Delhi threaten its status as a regional hub.