How The ME3 Became So Dominant In The Indian Market

When looking at the international aviation market in India, three airlines stand out in particular: Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad. Popularly known as the Middle East three, or ME3, these airlines dominate the market for international flights. But how did the ME3 become so big in India?

Emirates is the largest of the ME3 in India. Photo: Emirates

Lack of competition

One of the main reasons the ME3 have become so dominant in the last few years is due to a lack of competition in the market. India has only one long-haul international carrier; Air India. This airline only offers limited routes and is known for having its fair share of issues. While other foreign airlines do operate in India, such as Lufthansa, British Airways, and Srilankan, none of them offer a fraction of the routes of the ME3.

Air India
Air India is the country’s only long-haul international carrier. Photo: Simple Flying

The collapse of Jet Airways allowed these carriers to grow further, capitalizing on the reduced capacity to key cities. Jet served a number of popular cities, such as Manchester and Amsterdam, which now have few or no connections. By and large, most of these routes were filled by the Middle East carriers due to their frequent, high-capacity services.

Many destinations and heavy investments

All three Middle East carriers have heavily invested in the Indian market. Emirates flies to nine cities, Etihad to 10, and Qatar to 13. In addition to this, Qatar codeshares with IndiGo, the country’s largest carrier, to reach even more cities. By flying to so many cities, the ME3 are able to reach a large part of the Indian population and provide connections to any destination across the globe.

Qatar Airways flying over Doha
Qatar Airways flies to 13 Indian cities and even has a codeshare agreement with IndiGo. Photo: Getty Images

The ME3 also fly multiple services to major Indian cities, such as Delhi and Mumbai, to ensure seamless connectivity and short layovers. India has become one of the most important markets for these carriers and will continue to grow in the coming years, which has persuaded airlines to invest more in the country to ensure they are at the forefront of any growth.


Aside from providing the most connections, the Middle East remains a popular destination for Indians. The region is home to millions of Indian expatriates and has become a booming tourist destination in the last decade. All of this has further raised the stature of Middle East airlines, making it a popular hub for Indian travelers.

Etihad airbus travelpass Getty Images
India’s connection to the Middle East has further raised the popularity of the ME3. Photo: Getty Images

The ME3 also offer lower fares compared to the competition, a critical factor in a price-sensitive market like India. These lower fares can be attributed to lower airport fees and government taxes (no British APD!). The ME3 have pushed out the US Big Three from the Indian market, with American now operating no flights to India. United and Delta do operate limited services from major cities on profitable routes, but nothing to rival the ME3.

With a combination of heavy investments, good timing, and a lack of competition, the ME3 have become dominant players in India. Emirates comes behind only Air India, while Qatar and Etihad are fast growing their market shares. The ME3’s strategy to offer the most capacity and destinations has worked until now, but one which will be tested in the coming years with carriers like Vistara launching their own long-haul operations.