India’s COVID Surge Could Have A Huge Impact On UAE Aviation

India is the UAE’s largest country by seat capacity and South Asia the second-largest region, behind the Middle East. As coronavirus cases surge in India, and as the Eid festival and summer approaches for travel, there is much at stake for the UAE. The country has 62 routes to India, and some 106 to South Asia as a whole.

Emirates B777-300ER
Emirates is the leading airline, of 20, between the UAE and South Asia. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

India is suffering greatly from coronavirus, with over 300,000 new cases in the past 24 hours. And that is likely to be an understatement of the real situation. The cause: the so-called ‘Indian’ variant of the virus, a double mutation strain of COVID-19 that is making the United Arab Emirates – and many other countries – uneasy.

The situation may lead to flight restrictions, if not a full halt of services. This is especially worrying given the approaching Eid festivities and the plan for summer travel. Bangladesh only recently ended its travel ban.

Air India B787-8
Air India has 23 non-stop routes between South Asia and the UAE. The B787-8, as here, is its top aircraft to the country. Photo: Mark Harkin via Wikimedia.

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Possible blow to a stable recovery?

Speaking to Gulf News, Orkun Altintas, regional Director of Consulting – Aerospace & Defense Practice, at Frost & Sullivan, said:

“News of the ‘Indian’ variant of the virus is a blow to the hopes of a stable recovery in passenger traffic in the region. A decline in demand for travel due to risks related to the new strain will undoubtedly be a key factor in the slump that will hit traffic recovery.”

No wonder that the UAE is concerned: South Asia is of enormous importance to the country. At the time of writing, the region is the UAE’s largest market after the Middle East this summer. It has nearly twice as many seats planned as Western Europe, the third-biggest market, analyzing OAG data reveals.

Etihad A321
Etihad’s main aircraft to South Asia is the A321, although others are used extensively too, especially B787-9s and A320s. Photo: Getty Images.

South Asia is crucial

Excluding the Middle East, South Asia has nearly four in ten (38%) of all of the UAE’s seats this summer. And it has become disproportionately more important, up from 29% in summer 2019, because of border closures and other restrictions in other regions and countries.

Indeed, as it currently stands, the UAE’s South Asia seat capacity has reduced by ‘only’ 17% since summer 2019. This is helped by the significant point-to-point demand that has provided a cushion against bigger declines. Western Europe, for example, is down by nearly half.

UAE to South Asia map
Some 106 routes are currently due to operate between the UAE and South Asia this summer. Image: OAG

India is the UAE’s top country

Nearly 17 million seats are currently scheduled between the UAE and South Asia this season. Dubai International naturally has the lion’s share, with about six in ten, followed by Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Ras al Khaimah, and Al Ain. Simple Flying recently looked at Air Arabia’s network from Sharjah.

India has long been the UAE’s top country, followed by Saudi Arabia and the UK. But while India and Saud Arabia retain the top two spots, Pakistan has overtaken the UK to become third. This is because the UAE is on the UK’s ‘red list’ of countries.

India’s COVID Surge Could Have A Huge Impact On UAE Aviation
In early May, up to five airlines are bookable from Dubai to Kochi. Image: Google Flights.

20 airlines

Some 20 airlines have scheduled services planned between the UAE and South Asia, with the following 10 having the most seat capacity:

  1. Emirates
  2. Air Arabia
  3. Etihad
  4. Flydubai
  5. Air India Express
  6. IndiGo
  7. SpiceJet
  8. Air India
  9. GoAir
  10. Airblue
IndiGo A320
India has been the UAE’s largest country for years. Photo: Getty Images.

Over 100 routes

106 routes are scheduled between the UAE and South Asia. Dubai and Sharjah both have the same number: 35. Next is Abu Dhabi with 25. But while Dubai and Sharjah are joint-first, it is of course all about Dubai, which takes nine of the top-10 route spots:

  1. Dubai-Delhi
  2. Dubai-Mumbai
  3. Dubai-Male
  4. Dubai-Dhaka
  5. Dubai-Karachi
  6. Dubai-Hyderabad
  7. Dubai-Kochi
  8. Dubai-Chennai
  9. Abu Dhabi-Delhi
  10. Dubai-Lahore

There is much at stake, but as with coronavirus everywhere, uncertainty is rife.