Saudi Arabia is one of the only beneficiaries of India’s tightly managed foreign flying rights by allowing the oil-rich nation a 40 per cent hike in quota from April 1.
Saudi Arabia has become the only country within a 5,000-km flying distance from India to have its quota increased by the Indian government, according to a report in Times of India.
Requests for an increase in flying rights by others like Dubai, Qatar, China, Singapore and Malaysia, among others, have been rejected.
There has been growing proximity between the two countries strengthened following the recent visit of Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman to India.
During his visit, the Saudi crown prince announced plans to invest USD100 billion in India’s infrastructure. In addition to this, Saudi Arabia also backed India against Pakistan at the recent Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meet.
This Muslim country is also believed to have played a key role in defusing tensions between the neighbours and ensuring the return of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, whose aircraft was shot down in Pakistan.
Notably, according to the rules, flights between two countries are governed by air services agreements — also called bilateral flying rights.
Under the new aviation policy, no country within 5,000 km flying distance from India will be allowed any extra seats unless Indian carriers exhaust 80 per cent of the flying rights quota.
However, in Saudi Arabia the utilisation by Indian carriers is still about 74 per cent (barring Dammam), but the aviation ministry expects it to cross 80 per cent by April.
Saudi Arabia has unilaterally allowed Indian carriers to add as many flights as they want to Dammam. If flights to Dammam were to be included, India operates more flights to Saudi Arabia than vice versa.
The external affairs ministry insisted on implementing the increase in quota on the back of various incentives provided by Saudi Arabia.