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. About most airline travel propositions I’m not squeamish or hesitant. But I do not, and never will, board an Indian-operated aircraft. Full stop.

  2. – The Indian government is not looking to relax capacity controls because it wants to recapture air traffic lost to foreign/Gulf carriers
    – When he says my hubs he means as a traveling person – maybe that is lost in translation to a western reader. He’s not talking about the state.
    – The Emirates of the world are knocking as India despite being one-fifth of China, is the 6th largest economy in the world and will overtake the UK this year

    It’s a big market – aviation or otherwise – and everyone’s a knocking. They are going to be careful.

  3. Interesting, thanks Gary ! Do I recall that you had recently posted a related article, about the difficulty in servicing flights between North America and India, due to the closure of the Polar Route over Russia ? Clearly this has a negative impact on the interest level and availability of North American Carriers servicing India. As it stands now, my understanding is that Russia allows carriers from only China, the Middle East, and India to overfly Russian territory (and it appears that they all do). A quick airfare search also unveiled all of the other usual International suspects, which I assume are servicing India on longer routes with potentially multiple connections. In any event, the statements coming out of India appear to be future based (ie: they prefer to grow their Flag Carriers, by freezing slots to the existing International Carriers). If so (and per Tom’s comments a lot of potential India Tourists won’t fly Indian carriers), my guess is that they’ll fold like a cheap lawn chair and once again welcome more International carriers. Stay tuned, tourism money is going to drive this issue.

  4. This refers specifically to Gulf carriers, not all international carriers. For example, the US and India have an Open Skies agreement. Gulf carriers have become de-facto India-US and India-Europe carriers.

  5. Yeah, that’s one of the countries on my list of “no go” ‘aircraft operated’ and/or ‘aircraft registered with countries’.

  6. I agree that protectionism usually impoverishes the country practising it, and obviously will in this case. However, it’s hardly as if the US doesn’t practice extensive protectionism within its airline industry, and elsewhere. Just today it’s reported that Biden is trying to ban some foreign airlines from flying to the USA. Fortunately many of these measures don’t last too long and are forgotten when the political expediency fades.

  7. I have no desire to visit India. But this is a classic case of competition is always good, unless you are the one that has the monopoly that will be broken.

  8. @NB – that is bad too! But we’re wealthy enough as a society that we can pursue bad, wealth-destroying policies that benefit special interests without doing as much damage since U.S. GDP per capita is higher than $2,250.

  9. The BJP (mainly uinder Modi) was the party that liberalized the Indian economy. It was the old Congress Party (Gandhi) that ossified the economy and set it permanently behind China from a roughly equal 1960 start. The BJP has done a lot to fix that.

    These measures are retrogressive (Modi is not even allowing Indians to use to choose flights lest they choose foreign carriers) but they are a blemish, not the focal direction.

  10. Ah Gary, all good things.
    But India is a republican we’re dream:
    2% own everything, 3% middle class
    (so voiceless) and 95% extremely poor (so extremely voiceless).
    Not much different than when they had British overlords so they’re going to take care of the billionaires first.
    US republicans have wet dreams about turning America into India
    That’s what making America “great” again really means…..

  11. Curious why the hesitation to fly on an India registered aircraft? Does India have substandard airplane safety regulations? Honest question.

  12. India has long been hostile to foreign players competing with the local ruling class’s favorites, but nowadays it’s only selectively protectionist.

    India is no longer the functioning liberal democracy of yesteryears. It’s been turned into an increasingly fascist state — a state led by right-wing Hindu populists whose ideologues, having long admired Hitler, have turned secular India into a twisted Hindu version of Pakistan. And that’s all while those zealots somehow also manage to admire Israel since they have the intent to do in and around India what Israel has been doing in and around Israel.

  13. @JorgeGeorge Paez, You’re neither correct about India nor about Republicans. May you should start learning a thing or two before opening your mouth. This fits you very well – “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”

  14. All countries use flying rights for leverage/negotiation chips, especially with countries which own airlines (read them as middle eastern). Looking the rights just with capitalism lens is dumb, especially if the airlines are owned by countries.

    Also, I appreciate if you correct “Indians, who are poor” statement , as it generalized us all.

    US, Australia, New Zealand all does the same with flying rights. Sole aim of the rights is not getting fares lower.

  15. L3 is ill-informed (and unsurprising spreading misinformation) about who started India’s current wave of liberalization.

    India’s economic liberalization was done by the Congress Party (I) under PM Rao on the urging from fellow Congress Party members Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram. The Congress Party and the BJP were both very protectionist, but the Congress Party had to take a new direction when India had a major balance of payments problem with then insufficient foreign currency reserves. That new direction toward economic liberalization was a result of Manmohan Singh and Ahluwalia. The BJP is riding the economic wave that was starter by the Congress Party’s forced change of direction. PM Vajpayee carried on with that course.

  16. Indian airline passengers got a boost from ModiLuft. Remember SK Modi? The Luft part was for Lufthansa as a collaboration partner.

  17. So Delta whining about ME3 ok but this not ok?
    Your hypocrisy is showing.

    For the record, I don’t care either way if Air India gets protection but it’s funny/sad to see how “experts” can’t hide their biases.

  18. Such a negative and biased article. The author’s intentions are nothing but to paint an poor impression about India especially when he calls Fifth largest economy Geopolitically insignificant.
    Airlines are difficult business and India’s regulations somehow have always favoured foreign carriers it is good to see the government encouraging its own companies.

  19. What a stupid ignorant article. The USA is far more protectionist than India. Most of the traffic to India is now being carried by foreign airlines and not by Indian airline companies. It only makes sense to allow Indian airline companies to get some parody especially now that Air India has become privatized.

    All you have to do is look at the number of flights that Emirates has to India versus Indian airline companies to UAE.

    One thing I would want the Indian government to do is ban these late-night flights to India where these other countries maximize the use of the planes by sending them to India at ungodly hours.

    Gary I think you should just shut the about things you don’t know about.

  20. Talk of protectionism. Were n’t the US big 3 crying foul about the ME3 being subsidised by their oil rich sheikhdoms? Recently there was some talk in US avgeeks that airlines overflying Rooskie air space should be chastised some how. What s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander..

  21. Gary, thoughts on the recent asks by US airlines to the US government to “protect” them from non-US flagged carriers using Russian airspace for US flights?

  22. If anyone here is betting against Tata and Air India, you will eat your words in 5 years. If you don’t know Tata runs Taj Hotels. They were original owners of Air India when it was considered world’s best airlines. It will be back amongst the best. India not only has “poor” like the ignorant white man who wrote this article points out. It has very high number of net worth families who are dying to venture out. Wait 5 years and if anyone who says “I will never fly indian airlines” – 1) they wont need you 2) you will be lucky to fly one!

  23. India’s government increased the number of flights with middle eastern airlines by FOUR FOLD in 2013. Holding back further liberalization is totally reasonable.

    ***Every country is protectionist*** …Should India allowed to be further plundered by foreign companies or should Indian carries be given a chance at growth.

  24. Gary is a puppet of the Middle Eastern airlines. They have a history of paying journalists to write favorable articles about the ME3.

  25. The US and India together cut off the MEast carriers by agreeing to both not overflying Russia if neither can. If India won’t comply then the US tears up Open Skies. China cut US carriers way back to China and it still is not restored

  26. Reading the comments here is quite an amusing exercise. Shows the open bias, hostility and above all half baked knowledge about India. Ahh the hubris we exhibit!

  27. @FlyOften – Gary has called out US carriers for their campaigns against the ME3 numerous times.

  28. @Tom good riddance, we don’t want white trash stinking up our Maharaja airline. Meant only for royalty.

  29. Ignorant and biased article. Looks like a lot of Islamic leftists have also joined the comments. The article is just distasteful and like a cheap propoganda. The comment from one guy talking about hindu nationalist gov. and comparing Indian to Pakistan is definitely a jihadi who has beep deprived appeasement.

  30. Certainly an article about with false information and may be someone who has a grudge or is too conditioned with certain idea of the world.
    Never in the history of the globe India has been insignificant be it very recent british exploitation totalling 43 trillion plunder or other aggressions through 600 years. India survived, thrived and maintains its thousand year old traditions.
    Yes there are flaws and shortcoming but no place in the world is perfect.
    Now lets come to the moot question do you have any NPP or merger-acquisition or operational license application lying there which was rejected, despite fulfilling all conditions. If there is please come up with that. I will see that it is done.
    Please dont spread stuff without backing documents.
    In case you forget all countries claim to be liberal but all have their cloak and dagger schemes. Begin with analysis of sole rights of PAN AM to fly globally from US and no other.
    Build a business and India is a good bet. This will bring profits and accolades. Articles like these will not survive in face of reality that India is better than most in Asia be it China (in terms of right) and nearby states.
    Make a plan will support you as Supreme court lawyer but these articles

  31. Gary I think you should just shut the about things you don’t know about. Nice comment @Srini.
    Some facts here about India –
    India is third largest and fastest growing aviation market in the world.
    India is set to overtake Japan and Germany to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2030.
    All these travel bloggers love ME3 bcos that’s all they can book with their stash of miles.

  32. This guy has no clue on India and decided to write an article which is also rubbish like him!

  33. This is actually a good post. It’s relevant and interesting and adds to the conversation. But India may soon get a taste of its own medicine when the U.S., and one would hope, EU, begins to ban flights that cross Russian airspace.

    We will see how well Air India and others appreciate competitive restrictions. With my hope being that it gets extended to include airlines that serve Russian markets as well.

  34. India is not banning foreign airlines outright, but demanding an opportunity in routes dominated by by foreign carriers at present, a belated attempt in airline democracy. ,Yo be an equal again.

  35. India has already tried this (international long-haul) several times with Jet Airways, and (I believe) Kingfisher and it failed miserably. You couldn’t pay me enough money in the world to fly on any Indian-based airline. Those planes – especially Air India – are barely held together. No thank you!

  36. The fifth largest economy in the world is not significant economically or geopolitically? The author is an expert on miles, points but world economy and geopolitics doesn’t quite seem to be his strong suite

  37. To the Tom above who says he’ll never fly on an “Indian operated aircraft” – bye Tom, you won’t be missed.
    I sure hope he has a Cessna stored away somewhere because he may want to rethink stepping into a Boeing or Airbus aircraft any time soon.

    Boeing is opening it’s largest r&d facility outside the US in India – a $200 million investment that will focus on design
    Currently Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), based in Hyderabad, produces 777 uplock boxes, which are metallic structures that house the landing gear in retraction, as well as 777 vertical fins, which are structures designed to reduce aerodynamic side slips and provide direction stability.
    In addition, there are hundreds of MSMEs involved in making aircraft parts such as winglets.
    Dynamatic Technologies is a Tier 1 supplier for the assembly of Flap Track Beams (FTBs) for the Airbus 330 family of aircraft.
    Aequs Aerospace is the largest supplier from India, providing machined parts, forgings and aerostructures both as a Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier to Airbus.

  38. HAHA this article is written by such an ignoramus. Rich countries are allowed to be as protectionist as they want while developing countries must pander to some western view of what is healthy protectionism and what isn’t, only because “their rich society” can afford it? The biggest chunk of India’s international air traffic is occupied by foreign airlines, and it is understandable to control that at a time when Indian airline companies are expanding/want to expand. Mr Travel Blogger, do you know why many imported fruits are seized by US Customs? It’s really the same principle.

  39. Wow, taking potshots at a country (and it’s citizens) just because it does not allow more foreign airlines sounds a bit cheap and petty. The whole underlying tone of the article distractingly screams that the author has some kind of a chip on his shoulder.
    What exactly is the correlation between allowing more foreign airlines and how wealthy the country or its citizens are? Is China’s growth because of the vast number of foreign airlines it allows access to? How do geopolitical realities play into this correlation? What about socio-cultural considerations? Are there any comparables cited to effectively make a point?

    I have been a regular reader of this blog but now forced to reconsider it given the level this post has stooped to.

  40. So as a ‘foremost expert’, the arguments is India is not as significant an economy as China and yet it chooses to protect is market. Excellent analysis. Except that its the exact way in which China protected its market (and continues to – even google and Facebook cannot operate there forget about others) and was able to grow its economy into the largest in the world. India today is the fastest growing major economy and expected to be so for the next decade! Oh by the way, Delhi airport has been voted as one of the most efficient in the world (on time performance) far higher than European airports.(Cant remember the last time I actually got my bags back at Heathrow). Its newer airlines like Indigo have far higher services level than their western counterparts.

  41. I think general criticism of past Air India (govt run) is mostly justified (although it did offer a lot of advantages of certain types of flyers). But new Air India under Tata (and Singapore Airlines) is totally different ball game. Brand new planes and a company run by world class conglomerate.

    Gary Leff usually write very thoughtful and helpful articles. Dont know how he got mislead on this.

    The context of current conversation is exactly similar to what American/United/Delta have been having about ME3 for years. India-US and India-Europe traffic has been lost to ME3 for many reasons.

    Fair competition is always good for the general public but it has to be fair.

    Regarding political situation in India, sorry to see how GUWonder (whose postson various threads have been extremely useful and interesting over the years) feels about it.

    Just as Trumpsters are much worse than Trump himself, followers of Modi (Modi bhakts) are much worse than the man himself. But all that political discussion does not belong to an aviation/travel forum.

    For the record, most foreign airlines chose to ignore/divert from Indian market, they were not driven away. In fact, many new foreign airlines have successfully entered Indian market post covid. Current discussion is in context of Emirates specifically.

    To all the posters commenting about future Air India (under Tata/SIA), you are either grossly ill-informed (and should stop ypourself from commenting) or purely prejudiced or possible past sufferer of poorly run govt airline.

  42. The author just spews India hate….why bring the China comparison on an article about India’s airline policy?

    You talk about Emirati airlines ? Who owns those airlines or their hubs? Isn’t there no government/kingdom/whatever’s hand in them?

    What’s wrong if India wants to operates it’s own hubs?

    Next, United Airlines’ CEO openly talks about government bailout to rescue them, why is it wrong for other countries’ governments to support their airlines?

    You are a hypocrite. Your articles seem to focus on the negatives about India …. And that just makes you a hater and a shill for Chinese propaganda or the UAE airline lobby.

  43. Commenters like “Those planes – especially Air India – are barely held together” don’t realize that India buys airbuses and Boeing. They recently placed the biggest ever airplane order with Boeing…..

    Get your facts right.

  44. Western hemisphere is in stoneage and ignorant due to their white supremacist racist mindset about us. And this racist mindset makes them more and more stupidest ignorant unableness to stomach our economic growth under our PM modi. BTW white supremacist are not welcomed here. Don’t ever think of that.

  45. Obviously, This seems to be a political article with racist overtones. The Author is only interested in taking one minor view point of his and making it a issue related to liberalisation. There needs to be a balance in national and international carriers passenger volume. They are just trying to manage that.
    Most of the comment s saying that they will never fly an Indian operator are the same people who land in India and then complain about almost everything even though the infrastructure in India surpasses that of Europe/US (Because these are new constructions). I was actually shocked on the magnitude of poor infrastructure in the US on my last visit there. Everything was great in 60s and 70s, now its just plain old and creaking.

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