Over 320,000 Indians visit Australia every year, with around the same number of Australians travelling to India annually. There are also nearly half a million Indians living in Australia. Despite this, Air India is currently the only airline flying direct from Australia to India. But this could change very soon, following the signing of a new Open Skies agreement between Australia and India last week.
Under the Open Skies Agreement, Australian airlines will have unlimited access to airports in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. In return, Indian airlines will have unrestricted access to all of Australia’s major international airports.
Previously, the maximum number of seats that could be operated between the two countries by either Indian or Australian carriers was 6,500 per week. Air India currently operates 4,096 seats per week to and from Australia, leaving only 2,404 weekly seats left for other Indian carriers. However, the current capacity restrictions would already allow Qantas to fly a daily Boeing 747 from Australia to India if it wanted to.
Currently, Air India operates 5x weekly Delhi-Sydney flights and 3x weekly Delhi-Melbourne services using Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners. Last year, 82% of Air India’s seats between India and Australia were filled. But, despite its high airfares, Air India has a relatively poor reputation. With a lack of other direct flights to India, many passengers currently travel via Singapore or elsewhere in Asia. By our calculations, only approximately one-quarter of travellers between Australia and India use Air India’s direct services.
According to 2016 census data, there are almost half a million Indians living in Australia – or around 2% of the total population. The highest Indian population is in Victoria, followed by New South Wales. So, there is definitely a case for more flights from destinations in India to both Melbourne and Sydney.
MEL has a huge Indian diaspora. Hopefully this allows more nonstop flights to BOM and DEL on a sustainable basis. It’s a route screaming for QF and the 787 in a “mid-haul” config.
But will the new Open Skies agreement pave the way for more direct flights from Australia to India? It seems that several Indian airlines, including Vistara and IndiGo, are interested in flying to Australia. But neither of these airlines currently have suitable aircraft in their fleets.
Qantas could already fly to India if it wanted to, so the Open Skies agreement is unlikely to change anything. Qantas did fly direct from Sydney to Mumbai until 2009. From 2009 it started operating to Mumbai via Singapore. But this service too was axed in 2012. Qantas currently codeshares with Jet Airways, offering one-stop services via Singapore.
One of the difficulties with serving the Australia-India market is that there are many large cities in both countries.
The problem with India-Australia flights has always been the number of Australian and Indian cities. So someone travelling from MEL-BLR is not going to travel on a SYD-BOM service, and connect at both ends, much more convenient to transit at SIN, KUL, BKK, HKG or even CMB now.
So, will we see more direct flights from Australia to India soon? Watch this space.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Australia signs Open Skies agreement with India