by Devesh Agarwal
Etihad Airways has wasted no time in capitalising on its recent bonanza of seat quota increase under the new India UAE (Abu Dhabi) bi-laterial air services agreement (BASA).
It has announced a massive increase in flights to most of its destinations in India. Specifically
- Mumbai and New Delhi: from 7 to 14 flights per week with immediate effect
- Kochi: from 7 to 14 flights per week from June 2014
- Bangalore and Chennai: from 7 to 14 flights per week from July 2014
- Hyderabad: from 7 to 14 flights per week from October 2014
Cocking a snoot at the on-going legal proceedings challenging the BASA and Etihad’s 24% stake investment in Jet Ariways, the gulf carrier has doubled the number of flights and tripled the number of seats between Abu Dhabi and Mumbai and New Delhi.
Under the expanded schedules, effective immediately, new mid-afternoon services to Mumbai and New Delhi are operated with single-aisle Airbus A320s, each seating 136 passengers, and existing late evening departures have been upgraded to larger aircraft.
On the Abu Dhabi-Mumbai route, the evening flight is now operated with 292-seat Airbus A340-600 aircraft, seating 12 passengers in Diamond First Class, 32 in Pearl Business Class and 248 in Coral Economy. This will add 2,044 seats per week from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai, taking the total from 952 to 2,996 seats in each direction – just over triple the previous capacity.
On the Abu Dhabi – New Delhi route, the evening service has been upgraded to a 254-seat Airbus A330-200 aircraft, seating 18 guests in Business Class and 236 in Economy. This will add 1,778 seats per week to and from New Delhi, increasing from 952 seats to 2,730 in each direction – almost triple the previous capacity.
|Etihad A340-600. Photo courtesy Wikipedia. Photo copyright Maarten Visser. Used under CC license.|
On the Chennai and Kochi routes, from June 2014 Etihad will upgrade its aircraft to Airbus A321s, seating 174 passengers from the existing A320s which seat 136 passengers. There is no mention of any aircraft change at Bangalore where Etihad operates a daily A320, where both its fellow gulf competitors Emirates and Qatar Airways operate A330 and Boeing 777 wide-body services.
Outlining a strategy to use Abu Dhabi as a hub to funnel-in passengers from India on to Europe, US, middle-east and Africa, James Hogan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Etihad Airways said
“India is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing air travel markets, and will play an increasingly important role in our growth,” “Subject to receiving regulatory approvals, we will continue to expand our Abu Dhabi – India operations and work with our growing stable of partners to accommodate strong growth and deliver much greater choice for travel to and from India.” “Through our purchase of 24 per cent of Jet Airways – the first foreign investment permitted in an Indian airline – we have laid the foundations for major and exciting growth in air services between Abu Dhabi and India, and beyond throughout our global network,”
The new Etihad Airways flights will also be marketed by Jet Airways as an extension of the airlines’ existing codeshare partnership.
This is just a preview of what India can expect from all three gulf carriers in the years to come. With their hundred billion dollar aircraft orders, one shudders to think of the sheer capacity these airlines will add in the next decade; and the capacity they will be able to dump in the Indian market.
Etihad’s actions are bound to have impact on national carrier Air India who is trying to expand services to Europe and North America in its revival efforts. Fellow gulf majors Emirates and Qatar Airways will also start feeling the pinch. It remains to be seen what strategy Etihad adopts to start filling those 200% extra seats, though pricing is a sure-fire way to the Indian passenger’s heart.
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