Eyeing the prize – opportunities for more direct India-UK air services

It should have been no surprise given the UK’s need to foster international trade post Brexit that, a few weeks ago, India and the UK announced that it would be relaxing the India-UK air services agreement. While details are sketchy, it’s clear that this opens up new opportunities for air services to secondary cities.

In 2016, there were close to 3 million passengers who flew between the two countries, according to OAG Traffic Analyser. This is just the number who started and ended their journey in India and the UK; it doesn’t include those who connected onwards such as Indian travellers who change planes at Heathrow to travel on the US.

Likely winners for new routes may be airports such as Goa (GOI), Amritsar (ATQ), Kochi (COQ) and Kolkata (CCU), none of which have direct service to London Heathrow despite annual traffic volumes between 30,000 and 60,000 passengers.

Of the nearly 3 million passengers, 41% flew directly with no connection at an intermediate airport. But that leaves 59%, or 1.7 million passengers, who travelled between India and the UK with a connection at an intermediate airport. Surely this is a massive target for new non-stop air services. Many of these passengers will be travelling from secondary airports in India or the UK and connecting at cities such as London and Delhi, but even a route as large and well served at London-Delhi, which had 480,000 passengers last year, had indirect traffic of almost 100,000 passengers.

The real prize, therefore, may be the million passengers – 3,000 each day who currently connect via an airport in the Middle East, primarily Dubai (DXB), Abu Dhabi (AUH) or Doha (DOH). Any new direct service between the UK and India will almost certainly face stiff competition from Middle East carriers seeking to protect this vast market.