Indian carriers added over 49 international routes in FY 2024 — the highest in seven years increasing their share in international traffic from little over 33 per cent in FY 2017 to 43 per cent in last fiscal. 

While domestic carriers' network expansion and increase in market share has been fueled by rise in outbound travel and economic growth, geopolitical factors too have helped. US carriers have reduced their capacity to India and deferred new launches due to their inability to overfly Russia. Similarly, Chinese carriers (which carried a fair bit of traffic to west coast of US and Canada) have not returned to India post-Covid. On the other hand, Indian carriers have inducted new aircraft and widened their footprint

According to data shared by Crisil Ratings exclusively with businessline, prior to FY24 the highest route increase was seen in FY19 (31) and FY17 (16). Data during FY21-23 have not been considered as scheduled international services were suspended and flights were operated under air transport bubble agreements.

In fifteen months till March 2024, over 55 routes were added. IndiGo led the pack with 32 route additions; while Air India and Vistara introduced 15 and 8 routes, respectively. Air India Express, too, added a few new routes such as Surat-Dubai and Indore-Sharjah.

New skies

While some of the route additions last year were service resumptions post-Covid, Indian carriers have launched new destinations too. Almaty, Baku, Tashkent, Tbilisi were added by IndiGo and Bali by Vistara. Air India started Mumbai-Melbourne flight last December — its first non-stop between Mumbai and Australia in four decades. It also launched services to London Gatwick airport from four Indian cities and increased its share of India-UK traffic.

"Focus on international expansion has always been intrinsic to our growth strategy. Today, we offer non-stop connectivity to eighteen international destinations with around 40 per cent capacity deployed on these routes. In the last year alone we introduced five new international destinations including Bali, Dammam, Doha, Hong Kong and Mauritius," a Vistara spokesperson said.

IndiGo said its international capacity grew by 47 per cent year-on-year in the December quarter driven by growth in network

Data from Mumbai airport also show increasing share of Indian carriers in international traffic. In FY23, IndiGo, Air India and Vistara had a share of 33 per cent, while Emirates had a 10 per cent share in Mumbai's international traffic. Last fiscal, the share of three Indian carriers at Mumbai airport increased to 47 per cent while that of Emirates halved to 5 per cent. Thus, while Indian carriers increased their network, capacity from several West Asian carriers is constant due to a freeze in bilateral seat capacity.

 "Both IndiGo and Air India are focusing on rapid international expansion as is evident from their recent aircraft orders. How the market plays out in the next few years will depend upon how soon the bilateral traffic rights are expanded and with which countries. International footfalls have not grown the same way as domestic footfalls. While the rise in share of Indian carriers is important, it is equally important to see the growth in traffic," said Ameya Joshi, founder of aviation blog Network Thoughts.