NEW DELHI: Despite its huge losses, Air India has emerged as the number one carrier during October-December 2008, in terms of both passenger carriage (market share) and aircraft movement of the 79 international carriers that operate to and from India, according to government figures.

However, in overall share, gulf carriers are dominating. Eight of the top 20 airlines (in terms of passenger carriage) were Gulf carriers in the same period. AI had a 24% market share of international traffic in October-December quarter. Emirates followed with 10.3% share, with third highest aircraft movement. Jet, which had the second highest aircraft movement, is third on the passenger movement list with 9% market share. Kingfisher, which started international operations late last year, figures at number 46.

The Airports Authority of India’s (AAI) figures show how Gulf airlines have managed to upstage the past giants, European carriers, who were not so long ago the first choice of people travelling between India and the west.

The top 20 airlines dominate 71% market share. Of this 71%, Gulf carriers control 27% with Emirates leading the pack. The other biggies are Air Arabia, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Oman Air, Gulf Air, Etihad and Kuwait Airways. The five southeast Asian airlines in the top 20 list enjoyed a 13% share with Singapore Airlines in the forefront and others being Cathay Pacific, Thai, Sri Lankan and Malaysian.

Among the four European carriers in top 20 list, Lufthansa and British Airways have over 3% share, while Air France and KLM are over a percent each. US carrier Continental is at number 20 with a 1% share. Indian carriers’ total share is about 33%. This means one-third of people travelling to and from India fly Indian carriers. The balance 66% use foreign airlines, where carriers from Gulf are dominating.

“These airlines are a challenge to all other players operating here, including Indian airlines. They have been able to attract lot of traffic from India on two to three hour-long flights to the Gulf and then offer connections to rest of the world. Players like Emirates are using A-380s to fly nonstop to distant places from there. Lufthansa has already started reacting and it’s time Indian carriers also tackle this challenge,” said Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation India head Kapil Kaul.

Mega airport developers here are also a worried lot. Gulf carriers are adding flights from non-metros and small towns. The impact: People flying from places like Pune, Goa, Amritsar and Lucknow can bypass mega airports being developed at Delhi, Mumbai for flying to Europe, America and Africa. The reason: They can fly straight to Gulf and then take connections from there.

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