India witnessed 6.3 crore international travellers in 2018, which was 7.3% higher from 5.9 crore in 2017. Although Jet Airways remained the single largest airline for carrying people in and out of the country, its financial problems alongwith the dropping of partner Etihad saw the two airlines together account for 1-crore-six-lakh international travellers, down from 1.1 crore in 2017.
In fact, the Air India and AI Express together flew almost as many people in and out of India last year as the Jet-Etihad combine, with the latter ahead by just 18,892 passengers! Incidentally, the AI-AI Express carried more than 1 crore international passengers for the first time last year.
Last year saw some significant shakeups in the top 10 list of standalone airlines for international travel. While Jet, AI and Emirates retained the top three positions in 2018 like 2017, IndiGo pipped AI Express to become the fourth largest international player in India last year. Thanks to adding a-plane-a-week in 2018 and deploying additional capacity on international routes, IndiGo saw its overseas passengers number swell 48% to 41.8 lakh from 28.3 lakh in 2017. AI Express swapped places with IndiGo and became the fifth biggest player.
SpiceJet moved two places up from number 9 in 2017 to seventh spot in 2018 by overtaking Qatar Airways and Oman Air for international travel to and from India last year. The silent rise of Sri Lankan, which is successfully replicating Gulf airlines’ model of flying people between India and rest of the world through their hubs, appeared in the top 10 list by occupying the number 9 slot. Qatar Airways, which was the seventh largest international airline in terms of flying passengers to and from India in 2017, is now at number 10.
GoAir became the sixth Indian carrier to start flying abroad (after AI, AI Express, Jet, IndiGo and SpiceJet) last October. It saw 42,478 international flyers last year. The request of Tata Group JV airlines, Vistara and AirAsia India, to start flights abroad is being reviewed by the government.
The massive rise of IndiGo’s overseas passengers with all other Indian Airlines (except Jet) seeing their share of growth — along with India not hiking the bilateral or flying rights of any other country except Saudi Arabia’s very recently — has pushed up the share of desi airlines in international traffic to and from the country. In 2018, Indian carriers accounted for 40% of the international passengers to and from India, up from 38.6% in 2017.
“The 7.2% growth of international travel could have been much more buts constrained by two factors. One was India not hiking flying rights of major airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Turkish. And second was the slot constraints at Indian airports, especially three metros — Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore — which makes it very difficult to add flights there. As a result, we have seen a rather subdued growth,” said a senior airline official.