Russian airspace restrictions wind in the sails for Indian airlines

Even in the gloom and doom across the world thanks to the war in Ukraine, there is a ray of hope for Indian carriers.

Almost simultaneously with the Ukraine war, the Indian government decided to lift the ban on international flights from the 27th of this month. The lifting of the ban on international travel came two years after international flights were stopped due to the covid pandemic.

Couple this with doing away with the requirement of getting repeated RT-PCR tests done before entering some international destinations like Dubai, Indian carriers are busy scrambling to get their international operations in place.

Airlines had been asking for the lifting of the ban on international flights as they could sense a huge opportunity because of pent-up demand among Indian travelers.

Helping the Indian carriers along is the closure of the Russian airspace and a reciprocal ban by Russia on flights from 36 countries “as a retaliatory measure for the ban by European states on flights by civil aviation operated by Russian airlines or registered in Russia.”

The Russian ban includes all 27 European Union nations, along with the United Kingdom and Canada.

This means that US and Canadian airlines flying to India have to take a longer route, avoiding the conflict zone, which makes it unviable for these airlines to fly to India.

Flyers are already experiencing problems, thanks to the longer flying time that international carriers are taking. On March 2, United Airlines announced that it was “temporarily suspending” its Delhi-San Francisco and Newark-Mumbai daily flights. Its flights between Delhi and Newark and Delhi and Chicago are continuing as they do not overfly the conflict zone.

This is not a solitary instance. Earlier this month, the Air Canada non-stop flight between Vancouver and Delhi was first canceled and a short while later, the airline decided to operate a Vancouver-Toronto flight to pick up more fuel with passengers strapped on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner while the aircraft refueled and then continued the flight to Delhi, avoiding the conflict zones.

This resulted in the flight reaching Delhi almost nine hours behind its scheduled arrival time had it operated directly between Vancouver and Delhi before the Ukraine war.

However, Indian carriers like Air India fly non-stop to the US. Air India is the only carrier on both sides which offers non-stop services from India to Washington and San Francisco.

This will provide AI with a huge competitive edge.

Vistara is also looking at starting flights to the United States and has already started the process of fulfilling all the US authorities’ requirements to fly there.

Air India and Vistara are currently the only Indian carriers that have aircraft which can do the India-US route non-stop.

Further, Air India’s flights to Europe are getting impacted only by an additional 10 minutes as it avoids the conflict zone completely.

At the same time, places such as Dubai doing away with stringent RT-PCR tests and more countries in South-East Asia opening up means that Indian carriers can also look at adding newer destinations in this region to take Indian flyers to more destinations, thus meeting the pent-up demand.

There are some tailwinds as well. Increasing oil prices that have already crossed $140 a barrel may act as a spoilsport. This is bound to see fares going up and air travel getting affected. But what works in Indian passengers’ favor is the fact that the removal of restrictions and doing away with expensive RT-PCR tests will help them save money.

With the war in Ukraine not showing any signs of getting over any time in a hurry, this is going to be a boom time for Indian carriers which have been facing severe financial problems due to the ban on international travel as they can finally look at adding to their bottom lines.

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