Indian carriers have been on a fleet ordering spree. Amongst IndiGo, Tata group and Akasa Air there are over 1000 planes which were ordered in a span of 12 months. Beginning pre-COVID and more so on the other side of it, IndiGo and Air India are investing heavily in expansion to foreign shores. The last couple of years have seen foreign carriers, largely led by Emirates asking for more access to India. This involves not just an increase in seats but also access to other points in the country.

For a typical week in June, there are 4130 international departures as per data shared by Cirium – an aviation analytics company.

For a typical week in June, there are 4130 international departures as per data shared by Cirium – an aviation analytics company, exclusively for this article. While Indian carriers operate 47.6% of all international flights from India by frequencies, it’s only 38.2% by seats deployed. This is because Indian carriers have fewer wide body aircraft, though this is set to change in future.

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While there may be over 120 airports which are operational in India, only a handful cater to International operations and even those which do, have a varied pattern beyond the major metros. This is largely to do with the Bilateral Air Services Agreement.

Airports which handle only foreign carriers

There are five airports in India where only foreign carriers operate the international flights.

There are Coimbatore, Bagdogra, Guwahati, Nagpur and Vizag.

Coimbatore sees two operators, Scoot and Air Arabia to Singapore and Sharjah respectively. Nagpur sees Qatar Airways flights to Doha. Bagdogra – where Bhutan’s Druk Air offers twice weekly flights to Paro and Bangkok; Guwahati – from where Druk Air operates to Paro and Singapore, while Thai AirAsia connects to Bangkok and Vizag from where Thai AirAsia connects to Bangkok, AirAsia Bhd to Kuala Lumpur and Scoot to Singapore.

Airports where international flights are operated only by Indian carriers

There are seven airports where only airlines from India serve international services. All of which are those where foreign carriers do not have rights. Interestingly, while foreign carriers have point of call within India, Indian carriers in most cases are not restricted by point of call for origin and can start international flights from any point in India.

Kannur – which has been making multiple submissions to allow foreign carriers is one such example where only Indian carriers operate international flights. There are 69 weekly flights from Kannur to points in the Middle east. Mangalore follows with 34 weekly international flights, all operated by Indian carriers. Chandigarh, Pune, Surat, Indore and Vijayawada are the other cities from where only Indian carriers operate international flights.

The mix

The top most airport in India, Delhi – sees 46% departures by foreign carriers while 54% by Indian carriers. The split is 53% Indian and 47% foreign carriers at Mumbai – the second busiest airport in India.

Airports which see higher frequencies by foreign carriers are Ahmedabad (69%), Bengaluru (74%), Kolkata (69%), Kochi (59%), Goa – Dabolim (69%), Goa – MOPA (80%), Hyderabad (55%), Jaipur (76%), Chennai (64%), Trivandrum (67%), Trichy (53%). Most if not all have a higher penetration of carriers from the middle east leading to a lot of missed opportunities for Indian carriers who are looking to create a hub at Delhi or Mumbai. For Tier II cities, it still means a one-stop connection, with the stop being in India rather than abroad.

There remain six airports where both Indian and foreign carriers operate but Indian carriers have higher frequencies. Amritsar (56%), Bhubaneshwar (70%), Calicut (60%), Madurai (74%), Lucknow (56%), Varanasi (78%) are airports where Indian carriers have a higher share of frequency over foreign carriers.

Tail Note

There are around 590 departures a day for International flights, much less than the over 3000 domestic departures. The passenger numbers are about one fourth of domestic passenger numbers.

International traffic has not been on the recovery path as fast as the domestic ones. However, international flights have their own advantages for the airline. In an environment where a lot of its expenditure is dollar denominated, earning in foreign currency is one of it. Additionally, the taxation on Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) for international flights is much lower than domestic – giving a level playing field for airlines against foreign carriers.