Coronavirus: Govt’s fly ban decision to hit West Asian airlines hard

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on March 17, 2020

The government’s decision to ban flyers from UK, Turkey, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and a host of other European countries till at least March 31 is going to have a major impact on international airlines.

However, the biggest impact will be felt by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, commonly known as the big three West Asian carriers. Firstly, these three carriers fly Indians to and from their host countries as a large number of labourers from India go there for work. Now, the Indian authorities have extended the 14-day quarantine for people transiting and coming from UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. This means that point-to-point traffic that these airlines carried from India is going to face a huge impact.

Bigger impact

The bigger impact, however, will come from these airlines’ home bases acting as hubs for traffic from India to the other parts of the world and back. These three carriers brought in passengers from other parts of the world into India from their hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

The three airlines which a few years ago were blamed by the other international airlines of cartelisation, as they were attracting their traffic with competitive fares and more connectivity. A bulk of this traffic is to and from India to destinations across the globe.

For instance, Dubai based Emirates, operates over 100 weekly flights to and from India. If you include flydubai, the hybrid low cost arm of Emirates, the number of weekly flights goes higher up even more as flydubai connects smaller towns like Lucknow and Kochi in India to Dubai and onwards. Ditto for Etihad. The flag carrier of the UAE, recently said India was its biggest market outside the UAE. Now with that gone one can only imagine the financial mess the airline will find itself in.

Meanwhile flydubai has also announced that following a directive from the Indian authorities its flights to and from India will be cancelled between 17 and 31 March.

Other international airlines too will have to face the brunt of the ban. The government’s order banning passengers from UK, Turkey, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and a host of other countries in Europe will also affect European carriers like British Airways, Virgin, Lufthansa, Air France and our own Air India as they too will not be able to get passengers from these countries.

The government’s decision came on the day that CAPA warned that unless there was some help from governments the global airline industry will be in serious trouble. The reports concludes that by the end of May 2020 most airlines in the world will be bankrupt. It suggests coordinated government and industry action now if this catastrophe is to be avoided.

The demise of Jet Airways, in April last year, had provided an opportunity to a host of international carriers to start more flights to and from India and which will now get impacted. Take for instance Virgin Atlantic--- it recently announced commencement of its flights between India and Birmingham, making it the second city in the UK to which it offered connections from India. Incidentally, Jet Airways operated between India and Birmingham before it temporarily ceased operations in April last year. Virgin also operates to London.

Published on March 17, 2020

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