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Corporate Jan 2, 2013

Interview: India is the largest country in Emirates network

By Sindhu Bhattacharya

New Delhi: Emirates Airline is the single largest foreign airline operating to and from India and wants to expand operations further. But since increasing frequencies or seats is a bilateral decision which the UAE and Indian governments will have to take, Emirates is meanwhile doing the next best thing-offering increased connectivity from India to the US, Britain and France via Dubai.

In an e-mail interaction with Firstpost, Essa Sulaiman Ahmad, Vice President-India & Nepal, Emirates Airline, said that the number of flights to India is already the highest for Emirates in any market. He sidesteps the question on wanting more traffic rights to fly into more Indian cities but it is clear that Emirates is wooing the Indian flier away from other foreign carriers and even the Indian airlines which fly overseas. But competition may be heating up for Emirates. Compatriot Etihad Airways is in final stages of a discussion with two separate Indian airlines for a possible equity partnership. If either of these deals materialises, Emirates may have to get even more aggressive in India to defend its market share since Etihad would gain access to Indian cities. Excerpts from the interaction:

Essa Sulaiman Ahmad, Vice President-India & Nepal, Emirates Airline. Firstpost.com

I believe Emirates offers 54,200 seats per week right now to India through 184 flights. How does this compare with other foreign airlines operating from India and what are your load factors on these flights?

Emirates operates 185 weekly flights from 10 destinations in the country. Over the last 10 years, Emirates has had an average load factor of 84 percent from India and is one of the largest operators to the Indian subcontinent. Emirates' market share for the period 2010-11 from India was 12.3 percent of international passenger traffic.

Have loads suffered in recent months because of a general downturn in Indian aviation? And what are yields like from India?

There have been pressures on loads from India given the nature of the international market, increased input costs, softening of demand and competitive pricing among all carriers. However, at Emirates we have managed to maintain a healthy average load factor of 80 percent. Last financial year, the West Asia & Indian Ocean region, of which India is a large market, contributed 10.3 percent to the overall revenues of the company, which was a slight growth over the previous financial year. We continue to develop ways to support India aviation. For example, at the moment we have a fare offer in the Indian market to give passengers who book between now and 10 January 2013 the opportunity to experience Emirates' award-winning product and service at even greater value for money than usual.

Emirates wants to offer 80,000 seats a week into India. Have you spoken to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to increase seat entitlements? What has been the ministry's response? And how much of their entitlements do Indian carriers use to Dubai?

Seat entitlements are part of the Air Service Agreements (ASA) which are decided between individual governments and not airlines.

Are you increasing seats on routes like the US or other European destinations where there is growing demand from India? Please give us details of which routes and how many seats being increased.

On 10 December, Emirates announced an increase in capacity to London Heathrow (LHR) where there is great demand to fly to from the India market only earlier this month, all 5 daily flights into LHR are now operated using A380s. From 1 January, we are also increasing capacity on our New York and Paris routes by launching double-daily A380 services to both cities which are popular destinations with Indian passengers, especially with travellers from Delhi.

Emirates has been wanting to get the A380 into India, like some other global airlines. What is the status of this request of the airline?

Emirates has always supported the introduction of the latest products and services to benefit the consumer. The decision whether to allow the A380 to operate into India is in the hands of the Indian aviation authorities.

How important is the Indian market in Emirates' global operations, what number of Indians are transit passengers through Dubai annually on your flights from here and how do you see this traffic increasing over the next few years?

Emirates operates 185 weekly flights to 10 Indian destinations in India which is largest in any country on our network. With a domestic population which is increasingly mobile and large, demand from Indian expats to visit their friends and relatives in India, plus more than 800,000 Indian expats living in Dubai itself, the significance of India for business and leisure travel to Dubai and beyond is of great importance.

by Sindhu Bhattacharya

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