IndiGo has been adding destinations to its network at breakneck speed in the last few years. The airline operated to 34 domestic and five international destinations at the end of 2015. Next month it will operate to 74 domestic and 26 international destinations.
On Wednesday, the airline announced that it will launch services to Ras Al Khaimah, making it the 100th destination for the airline. RAK as the place is popularly known isn’t high profile but gels well with IndiGo’s philosophy of not making a splash out of anything and keeping things simple. Flights to RAK will begin from September 22, 2022 and will operate from Mumbai.
I typically write about the new station closer to the start of the station but this time I am writing immediately after the announcement because there are two interesting things.
First, IndiGo hasn’t closed a single station in 16 years of operations which is a big achievement. Second, since the airline has announced that RAK will be its 100th station and it starts on Sep 22, it won’t announce another station to begin before that. I expect the airline to add a 75th domestic destination to celebrate 75 years of independence and my measured guess is that it would be MOPA but even if it is, the actual start would then be post 22nd Sept. The airline has returned to all domestic destinations that it operated pre COVID but has not yet returned to all international destinations. Currently, the airline has returned to all except Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Yangon. This is largely due to the current restrictions in China and Hong Kong and Yangon seeing a change in government post the military coup.
Ras Al Khaimah (RAK)
Ras Al Khaimah is the sixth largest city in the UAE after Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ain and Ajman. IndiGo already operates to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah with RAK being the fourth point in UAE. Ajman does not have its own airport but Al Ain does have and sees services from Air India Express. India – UAE Air Services Agreement (ASA) is a unique case where India has a separate ASA with Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and RKT/Al-Ain. There is a cap of 1400 weekly seats but there also is a provision to have additional seats to all
The Air Services Agreement entitles additional seats to any point except Dubai which seems to be in consideration now for IndiGo.
The airport at RAK has had its own carrier which was unsuccessful. The distance from RAK to Dubai is over 100 kms and due to efficient connectivity at both Dubai and Sharjah, RAK has not been able to position itself as an alternate airport. Air India Express is the only carrier connecting India with RAK, with twice weekly flights from Kozhikode. The Indian population in RAK is much smaller than that at Dubai, Sharjah or Abu Dhabi.
The SpiceJet connection
In November 2019, SpiceJet had announced signing an MoU with Ras Al Khaimah International airport to develop and promote tourism and create an aviation hub at RAK airport. This was followed up with a tripartite agreement between SpiceJet, RAK Airport and GMR Hyderabad. However, this agreement in March 2020 was just days ahead of the pandemic lockdown.
The airline started using Ras Al Khaimah airport as a technical/refuelling stop for its cargo flights to Africa and Europe and also for passenger flights to Europe.In November 2020, the airline launched flights to RAK. The airline operated twice a week from Delhi starting Nov 26, 2020. The airline further connected RAK to Mumbai in January 2021 with twice weekly flights and increased frequency between Delhi and RAK to four times a week. The airline has not operated flights to RAK since the air bubbles came to an end!
The India – Ras Al Khaimah market is between 1000 – 1500 passengers each way per month, which is very small as compared to other international routes which the airline operates.
With the new flight, IndiGo will offer the maximum seats between India and Ras Al Khaimah and with the current ASA, it will continue to be so until the ASA is revised. This would also mean that RAK will be one of the few places where IndiGo won’t be able to add a barrage of flights.
While Air India Express with its southern focus has had flights to RAK and Al Ain from Kozhikode, IndiGo will try the route out from Mumbai. The timings clearly indicate additional flying for the aircraft. The current time also provides good two way connectivity from Mangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru. The terminal transfer though remains a pain, but something which is beyond the control of the airline.