Qatar Air to launch airline in India with 100 new planes

Seeking to gain a larger share of the Indian aviation markets, one of the world's largest, Qatar Airways Ltd may order 100 new jetliners in 2017. The Gulf-based carrier also plans to announce a couple of new routes in England, chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said on Tuesday.

In a media interaction in London, Al Baker said that Qatar Airways is confident about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's aviation policies that might permit 100 per cent foreign ownership of a domestic airline.

Confirming the speculations about Qatar Airways launching a new airline in India, the CEO said, "It could happen this year".

Last June, liberalising the foreign direct investment regulations, the government allowed foreign investors - barring overseas airlines - to own up to 100-per cent stake in local carriers. At present, foreign airlines are allowed to invest only up to 49 per cent in domestic carriers.

Qatar Airways is British Airways-owner IAG's biggest shareholder. It also has its stakes in South America's biggest carrier, Latam Airlines Group SA and Italy's second-largest airline, Meridiana Fly SpA.

The Gulf carrier has been trying to expand its presence in India but its growth has been limited because of restrictions on traffic rights.

Qatar Air's announcement comes amid the sector going on a downward path due to a rise in aviation turbine fuel (ATF) prices, increasing competition, and falling yields.

Most players in recent months have been able to post profits only due to income from non-core areas, or activities other than selling tickets, India Today reports.

Market leader IndiGo, with 39.3 per cent passenger traffic share in 2016, reported a 26-per cent drop in net profit in the third quarter of 2016-17 compared with the corresponding period of the previous year. Revenues grew 16 per cent during the period.

Jet Airways, the second-largest player in terms of market share, reported a 69.5-per cent decline in (standalone) net profit; revenues grew just 0.6 per cent.

Gurgaon-based SpiceJet reported a 24.5 per cent drop in net profit and 12.5 per cent increase in revenues.

The dip in profits has come in spite of the airlines earning higher revenues, albeit marginally, on account of the overall increase in passenger traffic, which grew 23.18 per cent in 2016. Still, bottom lines felt the pressure, as average fares fell for most carriers.

IndiGo's yield went down to Rs3.48 in the December 2016 quarter from Rs4.14 in the December 2015 quarter. Yield is average fare per passenger per kilometre. This means if IndiGo was charging Rs4,753 for a Delhi-to-Mumbai ticket in the December 2015 quarter, it charged Rs3,995 for the same flight in the December 2016 quarter.

Ratings agency ICRA, in a December 2016 report, said that "addition of capacity by new airlines and rapid expansion of capacity by existing ones have resulted in an intensely competitive market and prompted airlines to resort to a variety of fare promotions to improve PLFs [passenger load factors]." These fare wars cost airlines dearly.