India’s mega-cities are the ideal destination for Airbus A380s, so why have none of the airlines operating the mega-transport begun operations there when three airports are ready to handle the airliner?
In short, the Indian government has engaged in stalling tactics, with the not very subtly disguised objective of protecting its home-grown carriers.
The delaying tactic has raised some eyebrows, particularly at Lufthansa and Emirates, which are both eager to commence service. Lufthansa was hoping to start services to New Delhi in May, but has seen those efforts thwarted.
The Indian government has argued that the airport infrastructure is not yet ready, but that is widely dismissed by those in the industry and contradicted by the airport operators themselves. In fact, the runway at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport has been designed to specifically cater for the A380.
Some in the Indian aviation industry have been more vocal than others. Among the more outspoken is Ansgar Sickert, managing director of Fraport India, the local subsidiary of the German aircraft operator. He told Aviation Week in May that “there are other contentious issues like Indian carriers expressing their objections to the A380 operating into the country”. He also touches on the issue in a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site.
The Indian government appears to be motivated by several factors, including protecting state-owned Air India, as this Bloomberg story suggests. But Jet Airways and Kingfisher, both of which face direct competition from Dubai-based Emirates in particular, also benefit if the rival is limited in the capacity it can bring to the Indian market.
A domino theory of sorts is at plan. Were the Indian government to give the go-ahead to Lufthansa to operate A380s, it would also have to grant access to Emirates, effectively harming Jet Airways and Kingfisher on the key routes to the Persian Gulf region. That market is already heavily contested, even more so now that low-cost IndiGo is making its first international foray into Dubai.
Eventually, Indian carriers will need the A380 to operate in the country, but there is no rush. Kingfisher won’t get its first A380 until at least 2016.
It is unlikely, though, India will be able to hold out that long. An official for Emirates told my colleague Adrian Schofield recently that the airline “does not think there will be a long-term holdup.”
It may be too early to shout out: “pack your bags,” but given the propensity of those in the region to have enormous amounts of luggage, maybe not.