Why is GoAir going where hardly any Indian airline has gone before?

In search of new turfs.
In search of new turfs.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
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India’s fifth-largest airline is planning to touch down in some relatively unchartered territories.

GoAir, promoted by the 280-year-old Wadia group, has sought India’s aviation ministry’s permission to fly to Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan—countries where no Indian airline flies directly to.

The Mumbai-based airline also wants permission to fly to China, Kuwait, Thailand, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Oman, Qatar, and UAE. Most Indian carriers that operate on international routes have focussed largely on South Asia, the Middle East—mostly, Dubai and Abu Dhabi—Europe and the US.

“We are requesting to be designated to fly to the countries mentioned on a scheduled basis during the summer schedule 2017. Extensive evaluations have been conducted to arrive at a phase-wise plan for implementation,” Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, GoAir chief executive officer, wrote in a letter to the aviation ministry.

Confirming the letter, a spokesperson for the airline said, “Basically this is our wish list as we expand international operations. We have not finalised all the regions yet, but we have asked the ministry so that it is easier in the future.”

India recently relaxed the rules for flying global. The new norms let an airline take off on international routes even before it completes five years of domestic operations. However, the carrier must still deploy 20 aircraft or 20% of its fleet on domestic routes.

GoAir currently has 20 aircraft and has placed orders for 72 more from Airbus. By next year, the company expects delivery of some 10 of those aircraft.

“These are preliminary plans and probably in the next year we will start international operations. It will all depend on the dynamics at that time,” the spokesperson added. “We will fly on one particular route for some time during a period, and then to another depending on how the business is at that time.”

Iran, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan

Over the past few years, the number of tourists from India to countries such as Iran and Turkey has been growing steadily, data from the Indian tourism ministry shows. Indians have also been travelling to Kuwait over the past few decades in search of jobs in the oil-rich country.

Alongside, prime minister Narendra Modi’s increased focus on building trade ties between central Asian countries and India also increases the potential for more airline traffic.

The Indian government does not have data on travels to Uzbekistan. But, the central Asian country has been a favourite among Indian visitors according to the book, If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai: A Conducted Tour of India, by Srinath Perur.

According to the writer, Tashkent has built up quite a reputation as a sex-tourism hub. More often than not, Uzbekistan Airlines aircraft are packed with Indian men who travel in groups to the central Asian country, writes Perur.

With New Delhi also looking at better ties with Tehran, which is slowly opening up after being under economic sanctions for years, tourism between the two countries is expected to grow significantly. Between 2011 and 2013, Indian travellers to the Islamic country grew by a staggering 103%, according to the ministry of tourism.