GoAir's Mumbai-Doha service hits turbulence, shuts bookings for flight

Topics GoAir | Doha | Qatar

GoAir’s plan to roll out its maiden service to Qatar has hit an air pocket. Earlier this month, the airline announced its Mumbai-Doha service, beginning March 19, and offered an inaugural return fare of Rs 14,000.

Customers lapped up tickets as it made travel between the two cities cheaper. But now, the airline is facing a hurdle and has quietly closed reservation for this flight. The reason for suspension of bookings is inability to secure traffic rights for Qatar in summer. 

Governments exchange traffic rights between themselves and allocate them to their respective airlines to enable the launch of new flights. Last November, GoAir secured 1,300 seats per week for Qatar, allowing it to start one daily service. 

But that was a temporary allocation for the winter schedule from Air India’s unused entitlement. GoAir applied to the civil aviation ministry for an extension and then announced the Mumbai-Doha flight. But it has now been forced to put its flight on hold as Air India wants to use all its balance traffic rights and launch more services to Doha in the upcoming summer schedule.

In a statement, GoAir said, “The rights for Doha were given to GoAir in November 2019 for operations up to winter 2019 (end of March 2020) out of Air India’s unutilised traffic rights. We are diligently completing requisite regulatory approvals for the new destination. GoAir was ready to operationalise the same in mid-March 2020. GoAir made an application to the government for extension of these rights for summer 2020. We understand that Air India has advised the government that it will be fully utilising its traffic rights to Qatar in summer 2020. In the meantime, GoAir has put the reservations/bookings on hold.”

Air India and civil aviation ministry spokespersons did not respond to emails from Business Standard.

Aviation industry executives, however, are sceptical about Air India’s plans, given its financial problems. Following the closure of Jet Airways last April, the government allocated its traffic rights to Air India and IndiGo. The preliminary information memorandum on Air India’s disinvestment reveals that as of November, the national carrier had 10,395 weekly seats for Qatar. It was using 5,562 seats to Qatar and had a balance of 4,833 seats. Since then, it has added or announced new flights to Doha from Mumbai and Trichy. This includes a Boeing 787 service from Mumbai which it launched last week. 

The national carrier would have to add another 13-18 flights per week to Doha in summer to fully utilise its traffic rights. The number of additional flights would depend on the aircraft type deployed on the route.

“As of now, Air India and Air India Express are operating only 32 flights per week and now the airline wants to use all its balance traffic rights in upcoming summer schedule. Is there a serious plan
to add so many flights to Qatar given the airline’s financial issues and non availability of aircraft?” an industry executive asked.

In the past, too, Air India objected to private airlines plans to launch services using its rights. In 2018, Jet Airways had approached the civil aviation ministry to start another flight to London using Air India’s unused rights. Jet had secured slots at the congested Heathrow airport from its partner airlines. But the national carrier objected to Jet’s plans and said it would use the rights to launch its own flights.

Since then Air India has launched flights to London Stansted airport given slot constraints at Heathrow. It has also launched flights to Toronto and Nairobi. and is increasing capacity to Tel Aviv.
  • Qatar is the fourth-largest air travel market for India in West Asia after UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman
  • Traffic has been growing due to an increase in construction activity in Qatar ahead of the World Cup football in 2022
  • Over two million passengers flew between India and Qatar in 2019

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