The battle for the India-US aviation route is getting warmer, with Jet Airways
setting up an alternative international hub in Abu Dhabi, from where it will fly to New York, Newark and Chicago.
The business plan is part of the commercial cooperation agreement between Etihad Airways and Jet Airways, in which the foreign carrier has agreed to take 24 per cent equity in the latter. The plan has been sent to the government for clearance.
Jet currently flies from India to Newark and Toronto via Brussels. The new flights would enable it to take government-owned Air India head on, as the latter connects the same three points through Delhi (direct to New York and Chicago) and Mumbai (direct to Newark and via Delhi to New York) in the US. The combination will also challenge the domination of Emirates among West Asian carriers over the lucrative Indian-US market.
The three new destinations will connect Mumbai to Newark, Bangalore to Chicago and Delhi to New York, through Abu Dhabi. While the flights from Mumbai and Delhi will start next month, Bangalore will start commercial operations in November.
Also, to woo more passengers from the non-metropolitan cities of India, the agreement has initially identified six cities from where Jet will fly directly to Abu Dhabi. These are Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Cochin, apart from more daily services from Delhi and Mumbai. These cities will come on the map by 2013 or not later than that the International Air Transport Association's 2013 winter session, according to the agreement.
Etihad currently also flies directly from these cities and the tie-up will help it double the capacity to handle passengers from these cities to Abu Dhabi, with Jet also pressed into service. This will be followed by Jet flying from six more destinations directly to Abu Dhabi, in the second phase - Amritsar, Jaipur, Lucknow, Kolkata, Goa and Mangalore. Etihad does not fly directly from these cities, as it is not entitled to do so under the bilateral air service agreements. However, through its alliance with Jet,it will now be able to deepen its geographical reach in India, currently limited to nine cities.
Jet earns 60 per cent of its revenue from international operations. It flies to Abu Dhabi from Mumbai and Delhi and has just added a service from Kochi. With the new cooperation agreement, it will connect 15 cities in the country with Abu Dhabi directly.
Currently, say experts, British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Air India and Air France-KLM are the top five airlines on the India-US route (including indirect flights). According to studies, the India-North America market is growing annually by just under 10 per cent and about 730,000 passengers will fly yearly between the two countries by 2014.
According to Jet's estimates, 40 per cent of passengers on its India-Abu Dhabi flights would be accounted for by origin-destination traffic.