SEOUL • Former partners and rivals of Jet Airways are launching replacement routes and looking for new code-share partners as they scramble to fill a lucrative gap left by the collapse of India's once-largest international airline.
Jet Airways, which halted operations on April 17 after running out of cash, had a market share of about 12 per cent on international flights to and from India last year, according to government statistics, outstripping national carrier Air India.
In its absence, cash-strapped Air India is the only Indian carrier that operates wide-body jets capable of non-stop flights to Europe and the United States, although the Vistara joint venture owned by Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines has six Boeing 787s on order due for delivery from next year.
With international airfares spiking by up to 36 per cent last month and this month, according to data from travel portal Yatra.com, Jet Airways' former partners, Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines, have been among the first to announce new Indian routes.
"People still want to travel. Foreign carriers are changing their networks and putting more into India if they can," said Mr Andrew Herdman, director-general of Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, on the sidelines of an airline industry conference in Seoul.
KLM and sister carrier Air France will boost their capacity in India by 25 per cent in the upcoming winter season through the use of bigger planes, higher frequencies and a new Bangalore-Amsterdam route from October.
Virgin Atlantic will launch a Mumbai-London route in October, while Delta will fly from Mumbai to New York from December, in a sign that it will take months to replace Jet Airways' non-stop capacity.
SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh said: "I think you'll see in the next four or five months most of the (domestic) capacity will be taken up.
"As far as international is concerned, it may take a little longer as Jet was flying a significant number of wide-body aircraft, which are tougher for carriers in India to add at such a rapid pace."
Other airlines, such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, will need India's newly re-elected Narendra Modi government to loosen bilateral restrictions that cap flights at current levels. Mr Singh said that was unlikely due to India's policy of trying to develop its own hubs.
The capacity gap in the Middle East means fares in that market are likely to remain higher for longer than on some domestic and other routes, said Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo's chief financial officer Rohit Philip last week.
IndiGo has a code-share agreement with Turkish Airlines, while SpiceJet has signed a code-share deal with Emirates. Neither Indian carrier has wide-bodies.
Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer said new technology, such as a longer-range version of the firm's A-321neo, could help IndiGo launch non-stop flights to Europe without taking the costlier and riskier decision to add wide-body aircraft to its fleet.
"I think you are going to see some wide-body capacity going into India to replace Jet's and you are going to see some narrow-bodies picking up that market," he said.
Other former Jet partners are in talks with carriers about new code-share relationships.
Qantas Airways does not fly to India itself, but had used Jet to boost its reach beyond Singapore to Indian destinations. It wants a new partner for the large market, said its chief executive officer Alan Joyce.
"They were a big partner and we were carrying a lot of traffic on them," he said. "We have had dialogue in the last few days with four different carriers about possible agreements."