Travel Trade Journal

Jazeera Airways eyes expansion in India, seeks increase in seat capacity

- Prashant Nayak

In 2007, India and Kuwait signed an air services agreement for 12,000 seats per week capacity for carriers of both countries. At present, this is fully utilised by both Indian carriers flying to Kuwait and Kuwaiti carriers flying into India. The signing was also at a time when there were merely 3 lakh Indians working and residing in Kuwait and currently it is more than 11 lakhs. The sector has tremendous potential for additional seats due to the movement of tourists, workers and VFR segments. Since most of the working class are in the low and middle-income bracket, they aspire for low-cost options and Jazeera Airways fits the bill. Now, the Kuwait-based airline is awaiting additional seat allocation to implement its India expansion plans. Rohit Ramachandr­an, Chief Executive Officer, Jazeera Airways, feels that 50,000 seats per week would be more than adequate to meet the India demand.

How is the year 2023 developing for Jazeera Airways? What are the prevailing load factors on the Indian sectors?

At Jazeera, we started the year on a positive note by announcing record profits of KD20.1 million for 2022. The first quarter has also been good. We introduced a new route to Moscow in early February – the only direct flight to the city from Kuwait and recently announced our new summer destinatio­ns, including Larnaca, Belgrade and Tirana. We will also restart flights to Sarajevo and Prague this summer. We now serve 63 destinatio­ns across Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia and Africa.

In March, we announced our intent to establish a lowcost airline in KSA in collaborat­ion with Saudi partners. This new airline will be based at the King Fahad Internatio­nal Airport in

Dammam. Coordinati­on is underway with the regulatory authoritie­s in the Kingdom to complete procedures to obtain the necessary licenses in accordance with the applicable laws.

India is an important market for us. In 2022, we closed with a load factor of 92 per cent which demonstrat­es the demand for travel from India. So far, 2023 has been good and we are hoping to close with a load factor of around 95 per cent.

As a low-cost airline based out of Kuwait, do you see the demand for seats given that there is a large diaspora of Indians in middle and low-income jobs in Kuwait?

Kuwait’s current population is around four million, out of which about 1.1 million are Indians. So, there is a huge demand for connectivi­ty, especially among the middle and low-income groups who seek affordable flights to visit their families back, especially to the cities that we serve.

What is the current bilateral agreement between India and Kuwait for airline operations and seat capacity?

Kuwait and India are committed to the Air Services Agreement that governs the civil aviation relations between both countries. The current bilateral agreement was signed in 2007 when delegation­s from both countries agreed to increase the capacity entitlemen­ts of each side from 8,320 to 12,000 seats per week. However, this was at a time

when the Indian population in Kuwait was only around 300,000. Today, the population is more than a million but the seat capacity has not increased at all.

At the CAPA event in Delhi, you spoke regarding increasing seat capacity and flight operations between the two countries. Please elaborate.

With the growth of the Indian population in Kuwait, there is an urgent need to raise the seats limit from 12,000 to what is a more appropriat­e figure today. This will allow Indian carriers to operate more in Kuwait and vice versa. The government­s of our two countries have been in conversati­on about expanding the allocation of this seat capacity. If this happens, we would love to fly to several other destinatio­ns in the country, including some tier-two cities, as people living in Kuwait prefer flying directly to their hometown and not via the busy internatio­nal gateways.

If a new bilateral agreement falls into place, we feel about 50,000 seats a week would be more than adequate to cater to the current requiremen­ts.

Jazeera has been operating in India for the last 5 years and is now flying to 8 destinatio­ns in India. Do you still find the potential to expand operations to other cities in India? Can you name a few of the potential cities?

Within India, Jazeera Airways currently flies to Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kochi,

Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, and Thiruvanan­thapuram. The abundance of choices is strategic, given the Indian expat population in Kuwait, and our plans to add even more destinatio­ns to our network in the future.

The size of the expatriate population of Indians in Kuwait, and their aspiration­s for affordable travel to their home cities, also require an increase in air service entitlemen­ts for carriers of both countries. With an increased seat capacity, we would ideally like to include flights to other cities like Goa, Amritsar, Lucknow, Jaipur, Vijayawada, Trichy and Madurai.

What are your views of the Indian aviation market, which is growing extensivel­y, with airports and airlines reaching every corner of the country due to the UDAN initiative?

The UDAN initiative has been instrument­al in the transforma­tion of the Indian aviation industry. Increased air connectivi­ty, concession­s to airlines operating regional routes as well as direct or indirect contributi­ons to economic developmen­t have all been good for the country.

We see a very vibrant Indian aviation market that includes best of breed and practices by Indian carriers. Travellers in India are also becoming more adventurou­s – especially with the growing middle-income population. In 2019, we served five cities in India and in 2022, increased to eight. In the last year, our passenger numbers for India grew by 24 per cent compared to 2019.

Offbeat destinatio­ns seem to be attracting more visitors and we see a lot of traffic on our direct flights to cities like Bodrum and Trabzon in Turkiye as well as CIS countries. It is also interestin­g to see a mix of different types of passengers on our flights – vacationin­g families, solo adventure travellers, honeymoone­rs, etc. Our load factors are also good indicators of the demand for travel from India.

What are the new developmen­ts at Jazeera Airways in terms of global operations?

For the coming year, we will continue to stay focused on expansion plans for our fleet and destinatio­ns network. As mentioned earlier, we have launched new summer destinatio­ns in Europe and also intend to introduce a new lowcost carrier in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Following our “Approved Training Organizati­on” certificat­ion from Kuwait’s Directorat­e General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) last year, we placed an order for an Airbus simulator, which will be delivered by the end of 2023. We are very excited about this as it enables in-house pilot training and monitoring to ensure the highest levels of safety for our passengers.

We also have plans to collaborat­e with a European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approved training organizati­on to launch our own MultiPilot License (MPL) program.

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