Sir Tim Clark, President, Emirates, said on Tuesday that India should liberalise air travel by easing bilateral air service agreements. Addressing the media during a round table at CAPA India Aviation Summit 2023, Clarks said the Indian aviation market is an opportune market, and it is growing faster than South America and Europe at this point in time.  

However, he said the Indian government needs to libralise air travel between the UAE and India. The UAE has urged India to increase the maximum number of seats between the two countries by 50,000 a week from about 65,000. Emirates has used up its entire allocation of bilateral rights, and it is currently operating 334 weekly flights between Dubai and India.

“You can’t expect to grow and not allow others to come in. You’ve got to have an open skies agreement with most,” he said.  A large number of Indian travellers use West Asian carriers such as Emirates to transit to Europe and the US. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are the main transit hubs. Indian carriers, which are keen to operate direct flights US and Europe, are not in favour of the Indian government expanding bilateral rights between West Asia and India. However, Gulf carriers have been demanding more seats.

“If you want to liberalise the economy, if you want to expand Air India to become an international carrier, your bilateral regime has to change,” he noted. 

During a session at the event, Clark said he sees scope for “at least double” the weekly limit of 65,000 seats, and that he regretted India’s position to not increase it. 

“The demand is so strong out here. You cannot constrain that by having bilateral restrictions. We’re not here to threaten, we’re here to add value to the Indian economy and the citizens of India by providing a range of products other carriers have not been able to do by operating to destinations where we know the Indian demand is,” he added.

Clark said the airline has been able to manage supply chain constraints. “Gradually, we are getting back into some kind of an equilibrium… and, I reckon, we’ll get through with it by mid-next year,” he said 

Another pressing issue is about skilled manpower, especially trained pilots. As markets open up, Indian carriers lost a chunk of their pilots to West Asian carriers, including Emirates. Clark said 20 per cent of Emirates’ pilots are Indian nationals. When asked if he planned to hire more pilots, he said the airline would definitely consider it.