Stock - India airport
Demand has picked up substantially for flights to and from the UAE. But on the India sector, there is so much more that can be done. The Indian government will need to give clearance for full commercial flight services to start again. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Flights to Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah are providing the low-cost option for Indians wanting to fly into the UAE.

While a one-way ticket from the south Indian city of Kochi to Dubai costs between Dh1,000 to Dh2,000 this weekend, a flight from Kochi to Sharjah is available at around Dh800, with a return flight dropping even lower to Dh490.

A travel agent said that the lower rates to Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah is due to the lower landing and ground handling costs at the airports. “When you compare Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, there’s a big difference (in terms of flight ticket prices),” said Suraj Ramesh from Al Badie Travel Agency. He also said that the introduction of more flights from Abu Dhabi to India will make the emirate more competitive in terms of fares.

Recently, Air Arabia Abu Dhabi announced the launch of flights to Kerala – with introductory rates of under Dh600 - and New Delhi, and there are indications that Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, UAE’s newest airline, will also join in.

The joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s ADQ and Hungary’s Wizz Air plans to add the A321XLR aircraft to its fleet, which would allow the carrier to fly to destinations in India and Africa.

“The crew can operate at a five-hour distance from Abu Dhabi and come back again the same day,” said Kees Van Schaick, Managing Director of Wizz Air. With the XLR, “that number will become seven hours and we’ll be able to reach Western Europe, Africa and the Indian Subcontinent.”

With these new routes, Abu Dhabi’s low-cost carriers are drawing more traffic directly towards the emirate. “A significant amount of labor movement from Abu Dhabi is currently flying from Dubai and Sharjah,” said Ramesh.

Vistara's going non-stop
“Traffic on the India-UAE route has traditionally been higher during the year-end season and we have been observing some improvement in demand this year too,” said Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer at Vistara.

“This can mainly be attributed to people travelling for leisure and visiting friends and relatives due to the ongoing festive season.

“There has been a gradual improvement in travel demand on our long-haul routes, especially with several countries relaxing their Covid protocols for Indian travelers. We have recently launched non-stop flights between Delhi and Paris and have received encouraging responses for this route as well.”

India’s airlines add more

More Indian carriers are increasing the frequency of services to Sharjah. Vistara, a joint venture between India’s Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, raised the frequency of its Delhi-Sharjah flights to five times a week from three earlier. The airline now operates four weekly flights from Mumbai to Sharjah, up from three.

“We are constantly monitoring the market and will adjust capacity based on passenger demand and traffic trends,” said Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer, Vistara, in a statement to Gulf News.

India’s low-cost carrier, Go First (formerly known as GoAir) has also begun operating four flights every week between Srinagar and Sharjah.

Urgent need

Even with more flights being added or returning to the UAE-India sector, these are still at just 30 per cent of what the capacity was in 2019, despite a spike in demand since summer. India’s ‘bubble’ agreement system has placed limits on the number of flights that can be operated by airlines on the route. Even though new COVID-19 cases have dropped, the Indian government has continued with the policy.

“Both Indian and UAE airlines suffer equally, as pre-Covid, the India-Dubai entitlements were maxed out by both,” said Vinamra Longani, Head of Operations at Sarin & Co, a law firm specialising in aircraft leasing and finance.

Saudi expats

Ramesh also said that a large number of Saudi expats from India were stopping over in UAE to avoid quarantining. “Saudi expatriates cannot enter directly – they have to come down to a ‘green’ zone (UAE) and they end up spending two weeks here,” said Ramesh.

However, it looks like Saudi Arabia is gearing up to re-open fully to Indian travelers. Earlier this month, the Kingdom recognized India’s ‘Covishield’ as an approved COVID vaccine for entry into the country.