India set to hike Dubai's air seat entitlements by 20%

India is expected to soon announce a 20-per cent increase in bilateral air passenger capacity in accordance with the bilateral seat entitlements agreement with Dubai, a move that would see a dogfight for market share in the key India-West Asia route and onward flights to US and Europe.

The move, however, is likely to trigger a battle for a larger share of the lucrative India-West Asia to US and Europe as 50 to 75 per cent of Indian travellers to West Asia are transit passengers to the US, Europe and Africa.

West Asian carriers like Emirates, Qatar Airlines and Etihad-Jet alliance are also vying for a larger share of the India market.

Dubai has asked for an additional 20,000 seats per week after the hub's present entitlement of 54,200 seats had been exhausted by Emirates and low-cost carrier Fly Dubai.

An inter-ministerial group, comprising representatives of the civil aviation ministry and other government departments, will meet in New Delhi in the next few days to consider the demand.

''Dubai has exhausted its seat entitlements to India, while Indian carriers still have some unutilised capacity. We are looking at a revision in bilaterals with Dubai, given the potential demand in the sector over the next two-three years. We are considering giving them a 20 per cent increase (10,800 seats),'' reports quoted an aviation ministry official as saying.

However, since Indian carriers had utilised only 81 per cent (ie 43,792 seats a week) of their entitlements of 53,423 to Dubai till December last year, there is still a backlog in the case of domestic carriers, while the gulf carriers have exhausted their capacity.

The Indian government had earlier said bilaterals would be renewed with only those countries where Indian carriers had exhausted their entitlements.

Countries like Qatar are reported to be asking for an increase in weekly capacity to 72,600 seats, against the current availability of 24,800, as they seek to create hubs for West-bound international traffic from India.

Against this, the Indian carriers have put up a dismal show, utilising only 5,600 seats a week.

Meanwhile, West Asian carriers are part of an ongoing battle among Abu Dhabi, Qatar and a now dominant Dubai for dominance as an international air transport hub.

India has already substantially increased Abu Dhabi's bilateral seat entitlement after the Jet-Etihad alliance last year. India's bilateral seat entitlement with Abu Dhabi will he raised to 36,670 seats, in phases, by October 2015.

With this, Abu Dhabi's seat entitlement will be on par with that of Dubai.

A hike in seat entitlements will also help Emirates launch services with large-capacity A-380s, at least from Delhi and Mumbai.

About 2.68 million Indians have used Dubai as transit point to Europe in 2010-11, according to civil aviation ministry data and Doha served 0.85 million Indians, while Frankfurt and Singapore catered to 0.77 million and 0.74 million transit passengers, respectively.

About 37 million Indians flew abroad, including 11.4 million who travelled through foreign hubs, in 2010-11.