In just a few short months, India’s new consul general has met a wide cross-section of his diverse community, but they’ve all spoken in unison on one key issue: restoring nonstop flights to India from Atlanta.
“Whoever has come to meet me has been telling me, ‘You must do what you can to convince Delta to restart the direct flight,’” Nagesh Singh, the country’s top diplomat for the Southeast, told Global Atlanta in a wide-ranging interview.
Delta Air Lines Inc. operated a nonstop flight from Atlanta to Mumbai briefly in 2008, moved it back to New York in 2009 and discontinued it altogether later in the year.
The airline has blamed unfair competition from various subsidies foreign carriers have received from their own governments as well as even from the U.S.
Last year in testimony before Congress, Delta CEO Richard Anderson cited a $3.4 billion loan in 2011 by the Export-Import Bank for the United States to Air India for the purchase of Boeing widebody jets. That followed a similar loan a few years earlier that enabled Air india to undercut Delta’s prices on the New York-Mumbai route, he added. While the Indian carrier got “below-market financing,” Delta was busy paying cash for its planes, Mr. Anderson said.
Now, Delta says it’s Middle Eastern carriers that are preventing its return to India by adding what it calls “excess seat capacity.”
“Government-subsidized Gulf carriers are flooding the U.S. markets that make most geographic sense to fly direct to India from the U.S., as well as markets in Europe that connect to India,” Kate Modolo, a Delta spokeswoman, told Global Atlanta.
Delta and other carriers have alleged in a while paper and a coordinated media campaign that Emirates Airlines and Etihad in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar Airways have received more than $40 billion in subsidies from their governments in violation of open-skies pacts with the U.S.
The Middle Eastern carriers have fired back with their own assertions that the U.S. carriers have received their own backing since 2000, particularly in the form of bankruptcy protection. IAG, the parent of British Airways — a competitor of Delta joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic — agreed with the Middle Eastern carriers, calling the American complaints invalid.
According to online forums and widely circulated reports, Delta has now ended its flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai, though Ms. Modolo didn’t confirm those reports.
Delta travelers from Atlanta can still connect via Paris on Air France to multiple Indian destinations. Delta operates a nonstop flight from Atlanta to Dubai but not onward from Dubai to India.
Lufthansa offers a flight from Atlanta that connects to its hub in Frankfurt, from which the German carrier serves many Indian cities.
Next year, the competition could get even more stiff in Atlanta as Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, both of which have various flights to India, enter the market with nonstop flights from their hubs in Doha and Istanbul, respectively.
Bringing more competition would be welcome by the huge Indian population in the Southeast, many of whom have long desired one-stop access to India through the Middle East rather than through Europe.
“We would prefer to have a direct flight,” Mr. Singh said, noting that back when he worked in the vice president’s office, he saw all the major carriers clamoring for landing spots in India.
“Everyone’s flying in big-time, and not just to Delhi in Mumbai, to secondary cities as well.”