India To Foreign Airlines: Go Away, We Don’t Want Your International Flights

India has a population equal in size to China. However it isn’t nearly as significant economically or geopolitically. It hasn’t experienced China’s growth. India’s economy is about one fifth the size. And even on a purchasing power parity basis the average Indian is about 60% poorer than the average resident of China.

They don’t think they need foreign flights to improve commerce and bring down costs. They’d rather protect their homegrown oligarchs.

In the early 1990s, facing a debt crisis and stagnant economy, India partially liberalized, doing away with many business licensing and protectionist regimes. They nearly doubled economic growth, from a low base, and averted national bankruptcy.

However the lesson of the early 90s seems to have been forgotten under Prime Minister Modi, as exemplified by India’s decision not to allow foreign airlines to add more flights.

India dampened foreign airline hopes for more access to its airports on Tuesday, with its aviation minister urging domestic carriers to fly long-haul and help establish new hubs as it seeks to recapture control of Indian travel from foreign rivals.

…India was not looking at increasing air traffic quotas with Gulf states and instead wanted Indian carriers to offer non-stop long haul flights on larger planes. He said Air India’s widebody plane order and IndiGo’s twin-aisles to some destinations were signs that “transition” had begun.

Perhaps Ironically Named Gateway Of India, Mumbai

According to India’s Minister of Civil Aviation, he has determined that the country must have “a hub within India” and not just on its Eastern and Western borders, and goes so far as to describe airline operations as “my” hubs rather than those of the airlines, suggesting the role the Indian state expects to play in aviation despite having privatized Air India. It also seems like an odd take considering Delhi isn’t on one of the country’s borders.

Air India has placed one of the largest aircraft orders in history buying planes over several years that represent several points of India’s GDP in a single year. And they aim to protect India’s largest conglomerate, Tata Group.

  • More flights, especially from Emirates and also other Gulf carriers, would bring more choices to Indian consumers, increase competition, and lower fares.

  • More seats in the market would mean more travel in and out of India, which is good for commerce and tourism. It would also support more cargo (trade).

  • It would make it easier for Indian citizens, who are poor, to travel. It would make it easier to obtain foreign employment and send remittances home.

Along every conceivable dimension, more flights from more airlines benefits the Indian economy and its people generally. The owners of domestic Indian airlines do not benefit, and politicians who depend on them for support and favors do not.

(HT: @istrakhov)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “You are comparing India which worlds most vibrant, open, free, and the largest democracy …” That India is sadly no more, but maybe it can be reincarnated to return in form when enough Indians realize that the RSS/BJP is just making India into a Hindu-majority version of Pakistan and would be a basket case like Pakistan too if not for an American-supported imperative to strategically stage India as a counterbalance to rising China.

    India is not the most vibrant, open and free democracy. Under Modi, India is the world leader in populist authoritarianism and shuts off the internet like no democracy in the world; raids news organization offices; chases after human rights organizations to try to silence or disappear them; arrests and even tortures journalists for reporting what the government doesn’t want reported and places government minders in news offices; bulldozes and seizes property under false pretenses without following the rule of law by even serving individual notice; rewrites history in children’s school books; punishes children for the “crime” of the parents; manipulates the senior judiciary in a way that would make the Pakistani military feel right at home in Delhi; and copies the domestic mass surveillance impulses of China. Unfortunately this is what has become of India, a place less vibrant, less open and less free than the independent India given birth to by its freedom fighters who freed India of the autocratic rule imposed by colonial and other domestic powers.

  2. @GUWonder:

    And let’s not forget the ever-present caste system that continues without interruption.

  3. “Most of the commenters in this thread, of course, are disinformation trolls acting on behalf of the Indian government – they are not organic readers of this site. It’s been receiving a shocking amount of traffic *from India* which is…. unusual for this site.”

    Unusual for this site, but not surprising to me. You’re seeing the RSS/BJP-driven propaganda machine in action. They learned from the big enemies of India, the little “allies” of India, and the Nazis and other European minority-hating fascists whom they have long admired.

  4. 1KBrad,

    While casteism is still a massive problem within India and even among the India diaspora around the world, one thing the Modi gang has done rather effectively in India is to try to downplay caste divisions and in its stead extend and unify enough Hindus regardless of caste so that the ruling party (inclusive of its powers behind the curtains) can carry on marching on the paths marked by Nazis and other fascists of yesteryears, “Communist” China, Pakistan, Iran, Israel and Putin’s Russia.

  5. Gary,

    Tim Dunn and other commenters trying to pick on you based on your history of visiting India is sort of amusing, despite the fact that your travel history neither strengthens or weakens your position on an objective basis.

    There are masses of people who believe themselves nationalists and live all their life in a country without being sensible enough to be aware of how their own country functions and fails. In my school of thought, a person is a lousy nationalist when they are blind to or easily triggered by well-intentioned criticism and incapable or unwilling to be critical of their own country’s flaws and flawed courses. To be human or a human artifact means to be imperfect, to make mistakes, and to have room for improvement. But good luck with getting the Modi machine (or, previously the Congress machine) to be open to that reality when it comes to foreigners — and even NRIs — not following the Party Line.

    By the way, you should see how angry they get when told that Hinduism is no less a product of foreign invaders to India than Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism in India.

  6. A perfect example of misinformation and ill information. I am an aviation & uav expert and manufacturer. I clearly see and feel the western pain of not allowing foreign airlines to enter Indian market. And am not a government agent at all.
    Stop wining like a baby. Home grown market, local manufacturing will always boost the economy. 1/5 economy yet we gave world biggest aviation order.

  7. @Tim Dunn – In 2015 Richard Anderson explicitly called for remedies that included imposing limits on flights to the U.S. by Gulf carriers, and imposing price floors on ticket sales, both in contravention of U.S. treaty obligations. Facts matter. He lobbied for fewer flights.

    Your discussion of average versus the tails of wealth in India again misses the point as I explained in my previous comment. I won’t explain it again because you ignore why you’re off-base. Have you ever visited slums in Mumbai?

  8. The writer seems to be lackey of gulf airlines pitching their case of more flights to India blindly . All other countries do not give carte blanche policy of open skies policy, each country will do what’s in their best interests and protect their domestic carriers, so stop whining n moaning

  9. Gary and 1K Brad,
    it is noted that you, Gary, said that Delta asked for the ME3 to be kicked out of the US and then, when asked to provide citations, respond with the exact campaign Delta (and AA and UA) launched to REDUCE the amount of flights the ME3 could operate into the US and block their growth and NOT eliminate them or kick them out as you stated.
    both of you,
    After originally stating that the reason for DL’s objection to the ME3 was NOT because of the ExIm bank, you also replied that DL’s objection was to the ME3’s use of the ExIm bank which is EXACTLY what I said.

    The reason why I have such a good time participating in your forum, Gary, is because you make yourself such an easy target for debate because you 1. don’t do your research before you write 2. bang out articles and 3. then, when forced to document, end up with exactly the position that I said from the very beginning or you just walk away.

    whether your wife is Punjabi or not doesn’t change that there is a middle class that is traveling by air that numbers in the hundreds of millions. Not all of those travel international long haul but there is a massive amount of travel potential in India.
    I completely support India’s attempts to retake their international travel market and put them either on Indian airlines or on partners that allow true Open Skies and balanced opportunities for both sides – unlike the ME3.
    Delta objected to the ME3 and covid is now being seen as the great reset that is limiting the ability of the ME3 to regrow to the size they once were and India is going to play the biggest role in cutting off the ME3’s ability – plus TK and whatever new startup airlines pop up in the region – from growing. With the A380’s demise on the horizon, the ME3 will shrink in India.

    The issue India raised was NEVER about airlines other than the ME3 and even then specifically Emirates whose traffic rights to India are governed by agreements with multiple emirates and not just Dubai.

    I’ve had fun shredding what you two have written and, for now, have to move on to other things. Keep banging on the keyboard w/o or counter to facts or by cherrypicking them and I’ll have a full-time job coming to this site for a long time to come.

  10. I find Tim Dunn’s opinions interesting because they do not try to tie statistics to statements. For instance: “whether your wife is Punjabi or not doesn’t change that there is a middle class that is traveling by air that numbers in the hundreds of millions.” 2021 has the top 1% (approximately 14 million Indians) earning an average of less than 2 million Rupees per year. The top 10% (approximately 140 million Indians) includes those who earn 300,000 Rupees per year which is a bit more than 3,600 USD per year. The top 10% is not usually considered middle class, rather upper class. Further 3,600 dollars per year doesn’t leave much in a budget for flying considering that a lot of other costs have to be paid first. A better explanation is that tens of millions of Indians fly on a yearly basis and that hundreds of millions of Indians fly but most fly infrequently.

  11. @GUWonder
    “Unfortunately this is what has become of India, ….”

    This is not just under Modi – FYI
    The Indira Gandhi government under the banner of “secular” congress did just all the above and more including forced sterilizations..
    They nationalized Air India – a profitable business to get influence in travel. They nationalized banks and many companies – and then the socialist system failed- then they did an about face.

  12. As a commoner and an NRI traveling to India off and on, I see this as very limiting. A traveler must have the options and not be bound by a countries politics and left with no choice on which airline to travel on.. because, Air India and all the budget airlines going to India are the pits.. Very bad infrastructure, food, facilities offered. It is always my last choice, only chosen if I have no alternative. I hope it doesn’t become the only option. That would make India no better than Korea.

  13. For all who called caste in india .. in india it is cast . In other place like US it is called racism. Just check local US new for every day events between cops and non white s . So each country has it is own caste or race .
    Also why do we want flight india is not as big as China or Russia or USA. So people rely on trains more so uncessary talk on flights now. Let train increase bus then car then flights. In US no bikes all cars so step by step. The author is biased and not doing his research. Such article never should be published.

  14. It is funny that whities and their cronies always feel the need to preach others their idea of business and policies. Stay in your lane. Indians will decide what is best for them. You focus on your issues such as racism, xenophobia, etc. in yor adichittu. Get a life

  15. Gee, with all these comments about how great India is, I have to wonder why so many emigrate and immigration is almost non-existent.

    Funny . . .

  16. @BBajaj
    I agree that current Air India planes and service are bad. Air India flight from SFO to Delhi has touch screens in economy class that is not working and seats that are not that comfortable. Food is subjective. However, I will always pick that flight over any other flight unless the price is over $300+ just to save time and avoid layover. My parents recently fly from India to SFO and they found food terrible on Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to SFO flight. The best international flight I have ever taken was flight from Mumbai to London operated by Jet Airways. It had classy cabin crew and great food and service. That was in 2007. I fly domestically often in the US and I feels like I am traveling in a flying bus in all the airlines in the US. If Air India under new owners can match that Jet Airways service and put new flights on the routes I fly, I will always fly with them. Have you ever fly from DXB SFO? More than 80% of the passengers on that flight are the poor Indians this author is referring that can’t afford to travel internationally from poor India. I always wonder, why Indians have to fly through Dubai or Europe or East Asia and waste time? Why no Indian airlines is starting flights directly to the SFO which has significant Indian population with high income? That’s what the passengers to India from SFO wants. It’s great to have more options and have competition between airlines but not like 80% of the plane starting from a third country to the destination is Indians. That is just corruption.

  17. The Indian belief in protectionism is an unfortunate bizarre and mystical relic of Gandhi, who with religious fervor insisted that Indians waste vast amounts of time spinning their own yarn rather than engage in more productive activities and buying yarn from others.

    China might have a “Communist” political system, but has gotten wealthy from it’s predominantly market based economic system and social – if not political – freedom. India on the other hand has a “Democratic” political system, but has remained poor due to what is still predominantly a command economy managed by bureaucrats serving entrenched interests and its stifling social environment beholden to caste and religion (which are of course one and the same).

  18. Indian bureaucrats no longer are the power behind the wheel. The power in India is the RSS and its ruling class of politicians and their thugs more than the bureaucrats had been even during Emergency Rule when Indira Gandhi closed shop on democracy in India. Emergency Rule under Indira Gandhi was ugly, but Modi’s India is uglier in its own ways and causing greater and longer lasting damage to liberal representative democracy than even that disaster under the Congress (I) Party.

  19. A lot of Indians emigrate because of economic and educational opportunities. A lot of Bangladeshis used to illegally immigrate to India when India was more of an economic basket case than Modi risks making it with Amit Shah pulling up the puppet strings.

    What I find so amusing about these Hindutva clowns is that they are selective in their Hinduism. In that regard they share a lot with Pakistani jihadis with their selective Islam.

  20. This discussion was about flight rights but we have bots here as usual with Modi bashing.Just shows how uncomfortable they are with an elected leader.Please contribute on the topic at hand and leave your political comments on Political forums .Such losers .

  21. Author hasn’t made a case why UAE should want 20 Million seats between UAE and India, when entire resident population of UAE is 12 Million, and UAE citizens are only close to 2 Million, and most of the remaining are differing nationalities. Current agreement if 260,000 per week 130,000 for UAE carriers and same for Indian Carriers is sufficient for close to 3 Million Indian expatriates living in UAE, as very few other nationals have any need to travel in this routes. The Indian expatriate population is likely to fall drastically due increased role Emirati citizens in the economy, so the seats have to come down in lock step with it.

    Has the author disclosed conflicts of interests.

  22. Barry, would you be comfortable with Hitler as a leader? Hitler was also an elected leader, but is that really why Hitler has long been held in high esteem by the RSS/BJP and their other fellow Jan Sanghi types?

    Merely being an elected leader is sufficient to make you comfortable with the person?Then please explain why Modi & Co have banned the Indian people of Jammu and Kashmir from having an elected government if elected leaders are to be beyond reproach.

    Modi and his fat controller Amit Shah seem damn uncomfortable with democracy for Indians who don’t parrot the Hindutva party line.

  23. Most of the Indians flying via the UAE are flying to countries beside the UAE. Emirati carriers have been good for Indian expatriates and the rest of the Indian diaspora. It’s also been good for India and Indians that the Gulf carriers provided an alternative to the mess that has been Air India and competition to lower fares charged by European and American carriers.

  24. The original purpose of Emirates and each of the Gulf carriers to start flying was to provide workers, largely from S. Asia, to build the Gulf countries. Each of the S. Asian countries was originally happy to let them in so they could provide jobs for their citizens who send money home.

    Emirates decided to build a hub and they need more and more seats in order to provide connections to their network.

    Whether the majority of seats on 20+ A380s or 777Ws just on EK are for connecting or local passengers between India and DXB is unknown but India is focused on the connections beyond DXB.

    India and no other country is wanting to cut off the number of seats that are used between India and the Gulf states. Problem is that airlines don’t have to use seats for local or connecting traffic once granted to them.

    It still comes down to the fact that the world had time to think through the Gulf airline model during covid and they (the ME3) are not likely to return to what once had.

    European and US airlines are doing what they can to keep that traffic from spilling back onto the ME3, esp if there is any value to it.

  25. This GUWonder user needs to be banned. Just spamming the forum with irrelevant, hateful and nonsensical rubbish completely unrelated to the article.

  26. Gu Wonder,all that discussion should find it’s place on another forum ,not here.This is an aviation website.I will not engage in a political discussion not relevant to the topic here.

  27. Barry has already supplied political comments in this forum. But when the sacred cow of Modi is touched, Barry plays his cards and calls it “Modi-bashing” and wants whatever that is out of here. Have a problem with peaceful dissent? Then you’re probably not really as comfortable with open democracy and elected leaders as Barry pretends to be while trying to disappear commentary on Modi.

  28. GU Wonder ,you are one obsessed with Modi bring in a plethora of issues not related to aviation.Looks like he has made your life uncomfortable or is it that someone didn’t wish you today.Sit down and discuss the issue at hand which is about air traffic rights.

  29. GUWonder,

    We passengers to & from India don’t like to change flights in some foreign country and waste time unless we want a break in some third country. Specially middle east where they do one more round of security check. You seem to be full of political BS. What this minister is doing is good. India should encourage direct flights to it’s destinations. I would pick direct flight in a heartbeat even if the price is slightly higher and I guarantee that the service will improve with new owner & brand new flights.

  30. Sudhir,

    I’ve flown internationally out of and into Delhi more than 99.99% of Indian residents.

    As much as I often prefer direct flights, lots of Indians would rather get superior service and cheaper flights with a connection than pay a big premium for non-stop service, especially when it comes to the “comfort” of economy class.

    When flying via any foreign transit airport on a long-haul flight from India, passengers coming from India are subject to a security re-screening because of little faith in CISF/Indian security services.

    If the Gulf Arab royals want to splurge on providing a lot more service to and from India with a lot more seats, that means lower fares for Indians even on non-stop long-haul trips. Why you would want to beggar yourself and compatriots with higher fares by locking out expanded capacity from foreign carriers is stupid for the pocketbook and stupid policy. And that’s the same whether it’s the approach of Canada, the US, EU countries, India or your bossom buddies in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

  31. Khan,

    Good luck trying to objectively show how my comments are irrelevant to what has been said by others in the blog comments or how it is nonsensical rubbish completely unrelated to the article. Hateful? Those who hate on ethnic and religious minorities in their midst are the really problematic hate-driven ones. And, boy, are they motivated to be part and parcel of the Modi machine and to silence people who dare to challenge their preferred narrative.

    Remember when the cry of the day was India is Indira and Indira is India. Now it’s Modi and not Indira Gandhi, except that voices of dissent are now more marginalized and silenced for longer periods by the pro-government machine than back during Emergency Rule.

    Modi and his pet, supportive oligarchs don’t have a self-serving use for expanded Gulf Carriers service to India when the order or the day is to feed and be fed by the corrupt and corrupting Modi machine.

  32. “if the price is slightly higher”

    It will be significantly higher. That’s why the ME3 does so well. They have economy of scale.

  33. The big Indian business houses have long had a history of donating large sums above and under the table to the ruling powers that be in the country. And in return, the ruling powers that be help the same persons/groups providing them big money. It has been no coincidence that the big business houses’ leaders and aides also provide some very expensive wedding gifts to the marrying children of India’s senior politicians or even pay for the weddings.

    A lot of the big business houses used to do the same kind of thing with the Congress Party too, but nowadays the money is much bigger than it used to be even 15 years ago and the kickbacks and backscratching are like never before in the country. Given the reach of the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it may be a combination of India’s geostrategic importance and the RSS/BJP intimidation factor that has Indian whistle-blowing not being as big business as it can be, especially given the amount of money that could be in play on the US-side.

  34. @GU Wonder

    Who said foreign airlines has better service? Indian passengers are subject to screening in all airports while changing planes? Shows how much you have travelled. Only in middle east I have encountered this and not in European or Singapore/Hongkong airports. It’s not cheap either. Price is almost similar. Given a choice, I would never want to touch my feet on those middle eastern countries. The best international flight I ever taken was Jet airways from Mumbai & LHR. I have travelled domestically in Kingfisher airlines in India when it was operational in late 2000’s and it is the best domestic airlines I ever travelled. Compared to that all the domestic airlines in the US look like a cattle class. Air India may be worst now but I am sure under new management and new planes ordered it will be much better.

  35. It’s amazing to see the west/developed world get uncomfortable with India…I understand its hard to see someone better than your collective self…how can people who should learn from us be better than us. How can a country feed 800M people (size of US and most of Europe put together) for free and yet grow…how can a country kick the Pfizers and Astras of the world create their own superior vaccine and give to the world for free and yet grow…while US Canada and UK busy hoarding the vaccines from the world yet have the worst COVID management… It’s amazing how the west just does not have any morals…finally just so that when the western economy is in the toilet guess who comes to rescue hmmm India comes out and gives the aviation deal creating millions of jobs in US, UK and France so that their people dont starve… It’s hard to digest that some people are good at administration and west just lacks that talent…staying in denial will only prolong the learning…please wake up and smell the coffee

  36. India should be uncomfortable with itself given how it is now betraying the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru, the very leaders who made India a democracy and guided it on a path to distinguish it from being just a Hindu version of Pakistan. And about India’s economic rise and capabilities, let’s not forget that a lot of it is a product of the very IIT/IIM system which Nehru advanced long ago and from
    which Manmohan Singh was able to propel national growth during the mid-1990s and later. India’s tech sector — and let’s be clear that the Indian tech sector is still a very small part of the Indian employment scene and underemployment in the country is a massive problem — would have been no more than Pakistan and Bangladesh if not for those folks, the Indian diaspora, and a US-led drive to check China.

    A loyal opposition member of the Indian Parliament — namely Rahul Gandhi this time — was disqualified from remaining as a member of Parliament because of a conviction in a defamation case in a stacked court case. Meanwhile the RSS/BJP gundas with involvement in violent crimes remain in government offices. Thugocracy and anti-democratic rule has taken over India, courtesy of its ruling establishment hoodwinking people with its fundamentally anti-national Hindutva ideology. The idea that all is well and good in today’s India is given the lie by a lot of the shenanigans engaged in by this government.

  37. Shenanigans which include how Adani got his first contracts for six Indian airports.

  38. Not even the US of A has a purely capitalist or market-oriented policy for every sector of its economy. The US too was protectionist early on. This was primarily to let its own local industries develop.

    Every country chooses policies for each sector based on its strengths and weaknesses. Countries that are small and rich can afford to have “open-skies” policies, but for a big country like India, it is imperative to have a viable local industry.

    In India, the middle east carriers (Qatar Airways and Emirates) already have a big share of the international travel sector. This government move is about stopping the middle-east behemoths from monopolizing the market, thereby completely stunting the growth of the fledgling local carriers. If Indian consumers ARE the market, then India has every right to decide whether to let ONLY the local consumers benefit or let the wider Indian economy also benefit along the way. If local carriers grow and India develops its own hubs, then it will result in a lot more aviation sector-related jobs for the Indian economy.

    Ayn-Rand worshippers can whine and complain all they want, but there is NOTHING called a pure free market. Only fools believe in such a fairy tale.

  39. We do not want pricey foreign airlines, looting Indian poor people.

    More flights, especially from Emirates and also other Gulf carriers, would bring more choices to Indian consumers, increase competition, and lower fares – wrong statement

    They don’t think they need foreign flights to improve commerce and bring down costs -Wrong statement.

    In the early 1990s, facing a debt crisis and stagnant economy, India partially liberalized, doing away with many business licensing and protectionist regimes. They nearly doubled economic growth, from a low base, and averted national bankruptcy – Not related. Talk sense.

    Altogether useless article.

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