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Collapsed Jet Airways' ex-partners, rivals scramble to fill India capacity void

Seoul

FORMER partners and rivals of Jet Airways Ltd are launching replacement routes and looking for new codeshare partners as they scramble to fill a lucrative gap left by the collapse of India's once-largest international airline.

Jet, which halted operations on April 17 after running out of cash, had a market share of around 12 per cent on international flights to and from India in 2018, according to government statistics, outstripping even national carrier Air India.

In Jet's absence, cash-strapped Air India is the only Indian carrier that operates widebody jets capable of non-stop flights to Europe and the United States, although the Vistara joint venture owned by Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines Ltd has six Boeing Co 787s on order due for delivery from next year.

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With international airfares spiking by up to 36 per cent in May and June according to data from travel portal Yatra.com, Jet's former partners, Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines, have been among the first to announce new Indian routes to replace the ones previously flown by Jet.

"People still want to travel. Foreign carriers are changing their networks and putting more into India if they can," Association of Asia Pacific Airlines director general Andrew Herdman said 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.

In October, Virgin Atlantic will launch Mumbai-London, while Delta will fly from Mumbai to New York from December, in a sign it will take months to replace Jet's non-stop capacity.

"I think you'll see in the next four or five months most of the (domestic) capacity will be taken up," SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh said. "As far as international is concerned, that may take a little longer as Jet was flying a significant number of widebody aircraft which are tougher for carriers in India to add at such a rapid pace."

Other airlines, like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, will need India's newly re-elected 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 expected to remain higher for longer than on some domestic and other routes, Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo's chief financial officer Rohit Philip told analysts on May 27.

IndiGo has a codeshare agreement with Turkish, and days after Jet stopped flying, SpiceJet signed a codeshare agreement with Emirates. Neither Indian carrier has widebodies.

Other former Jet partners are in talks with carriers like IndiGo and SpiceJet about new codeshare relationships. REUTERS