Easing bilateral rights will help Indian carriers: Lufthansa executive

Harry Hohmeister, head of global markets and networks for Lufthansa Air Group, said on Thursday that Indian airlines would be better off if restrictions on bilateral rights were eased in the long term, and if passengers had more options for air travel. For an airline to operate a scheduled flight between two countries, there must be a “Bilateral Air Services Agreement” in place, negotiated and signed by both countries. This agreement defines “bilateral rights,” which determines the number of flights or seats an airline is allowed to operate per week between the two countries. Civil Aviation Minister Rajeev Bansal said last month that the government had no plans “yet” to grant additional bilateral rights to airlines in West Asia. Emirates and Jazeera Airways, along with other West Asian carriers, have demanded increased bilateral rights from the government to expand their flight operations. However, Indian carriers like Air India are against expanding these air service agreements because a large number of passengers traveling from India to North America and Europe are currently using Gulf airlines. Indian airlines such as Air India are acquiring more wide-body aircraft to operate direct flights to these two continents. When asked about the Indian government’s reluctance to expand bilateral rights, Hohmeister said, “Of course, that has an impact. Behind your question of course is the correct assumption that it has some kind of protectionism. In the long run, and I’ve said this many times, I think airlines will be better off.” If they build partnerships and realize that no single airline can create a global network. It’s simply impossible. He said the airline could be strong in one area as the Lufthansa group is the strongest in Europe. “Most likely, Air India will be the strongest in India. If the strongest work together, it will be very good. The country and all the airlines will be in a better position, if they release restrictions in the long run, and if we guarantee passengers freedom to travel. It will take some time. I think it will take some work.” Lufthansa operates about 80 flights a week between India and Germany. The carrier announced on Thursday that it is planning to operate flights on two new routes: Munich-Bengaluru and Frankfurt-Hyderabad. Lufthansa and Air India are part of the Star Alliance group of airlines. Both carriers have a codeshare arrangement between them. “Of course, we (Lufthansa and Air India) have a partnership and we would like to deepen the partnership,” Hohmeister said. Air India has to find its own way first. I think they are restructuring now. It is a company with new management and a company with ambitions. “It is redesigning its strategy.”