At the CAPA India Aviation Summit 2017, an important new aviation deal was agreed on by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK’s Minister for Aviation and the India’s Minister for Civil Aviation, Pusapati Ashok Gajapathi Raju. The deal to ease restrictions on flights between the two nations will boost not only tourism and trade, but benefit NRIs and the diaspora visiting family and friends. Limits on flights from key Indian cities including Chennai and Kolkata have been scrapped, allowing for a greater range of flights for passengers; building new links with important trading partners is a key part of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s government plans for a Global Britain, opening up new export markets and creating jobs and economic growth. At the moment, about 3.5 million passengers fly directly between the UK and India every year on 88 scheduled services per week in each direction.
Lord Ahmad ran through some facts. Tourism from India makes an important contribution to the UK economy. In 2015, there were 422,000 visits from India to the UK, bringing more than £433 million to the economy. British Airways have been flying to India for over 90 years and in 1948 when Air India established its first ever international route, it was to London. The number of Indian airlines has more than doubled in 10 years and in January India’s aviation market hit 13 consecutive months of passenger growth and is on track to become the largest aviation market in the world by 2030. The expanded Heathrow with the third runway will make possible an extra 260,000 aircraft movements a year, making Heathrow competitive with hubs like as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.
Lord Ahmad admired the concept of the Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University, and has already written to the Civil Aviation Minister Gajapati Raju to see if this model could work in the UK. He expanded on existing bilateral aviation co-operation; in aviation alone, of the 480 aircraft in the Indian civil fleet, almost half are built by Airbus, with their most important components made in the UK. Then there was the brilliantly successful partnership between Mumbai airport and the UK’s National Air Traffic Service, which substantially increased airspace at the airport, helping bring in an extra $100 million in annual revenue.
Now that Air India has joined its Star Alliance partners at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, the Queens Terminal, which is far superior to the hustle bustle of Terminal 4, travelling between the two nations will have a lot more options. At present, Air India operates flights from London to Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Newark but the final decision on new flights between the UK and India is a commercial one for the airlines.