• Thursday, July 25, 2024

Asia

China wants direct flights to resume but India isn’t willing; officials say why

While the resumption of direct flights would be advantageous for both Asian economies, China stands to gain more due to its sluggish recovery in international travel.

Representational Image (iStock)

By: Shubham Ghosh

INDIA has shown hesitation in resuming direct flights to China, despite the latter’s request, as tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours stemming from a border dispute continue, Reuters reported.

The dispute, marked by the deadliest military clash between the forces of the world’s two most populous nations in decades in June 2020, has strained relations between them. Twenty Indian and at least four Chinese soldiers were killed in the skirmishes.

Thousands of troops remain deployed on both sides of the disputed border in the Himalayas.

Since the clash, India has imposed obstacles for Chinese companies seeking to invest in the country; banned hundreds of popular Chinese apps; and discontinued passenger routes, though direct cargo flights between the two nations continue.

Read: China fumes as US lawmakers meet Dalai Lama in India

While the resumption of direct flights would be advantageous for both Asian economies, but China stands to gain more.

China’s recovery in international travel post-COVID-19 has been sluggish, contrasting with India’s flourishing aviation sector.

Read: India has more nuclear weapons than Pakistan while China is far ahead: report

The Reuters report cited two informed sources to say that China’s government and airlines have over the past year repeatedly urged India’s civil aviation authorities to restore direct air links.

One of the sources even said that for China, it is a “big issue”.

“We hope the Indian side will work with China in the same direction for the early resumption of direct flights,” the Chinese foreign ministry told Reuters in a statement last week, adding that resuming flights would be in the interest of both the countries.

However, a senior Indian official who is familiar with bilateral developments between India and China, said of Beijing’s desire to resume flights: “Unless there is peace and tranquillity on the border, the rest of the relationship cannot move forward.”

Indian carriers are currently holding talks with New Delhi, while their Chinese counterparts are talking to their government about resuming direct routes, Pieter Elbers, CEO of Indigo, India’s largest airline, told Reuters.

According to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium, direct flights between India and China reached their peak in December 2019, totaling 539 scheduled flights operated by airlines such as IndiGo, Air India, China Southern, China Eastern, Air China, and Shandong Airlines.

Three hundred and seventy-one of those flights were scheduled by the Chinese airlines, compared to 168 by the Indian ones.

Flights between India and China were suspended four months later as the pandemic escalated. Despite India lifting COVID restrictions on international air routes a year later and China removing all COVID travel measures in early 2023, direct flights have not resumed. Instead, travelers now must change planes either in Hong Kong, which operates under a separate aviation regulator and border controls from mainland China, or in transit hubs such as Dubai or Singapore.

This has only extended the travel time between India and China from less than six hours to more than 10 hours.

As a result, airlines such as Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific have benefited, capturing lucrative through traffic, including routes to the United States.

The recovery in Chinese overseas travel has slowed down due to rising costs and difficulties in securing visas for the world’s top spenders on international tourism and airlines.

In a recent interview in Dubai, Elbers said, “When the time is right and the governments come to a mutual understanding of how to move forward, we’ll assess the market.”

IndiGo operates seven weekly flights on the Delhi-Hong Kong route, where passengers can connect to destinations in mainland China.

Campbell Wilson, CEO of Air India, said direct India-China flights “would seem to be a huge potential market” but for now there are factors at play “beyond our level”, Reuters added.

(With Reuters inputs)

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