The Broad Mind | A Delhi-centric view

by Karthik Shashidhar

Almost two years back, my wife and I flew to Venice for a holiday. We flew four hours from Bangalore to Dubai, and then another six hours from Dubai to Venice. However, if you go by what experts who are opposed to increase in bilateral seats with the Middle East are saying, what we did was anti-national. For, we encouraged the development of an airport in the Middle East as a hub, at the cost of developing Delhi as a hub.

If we had gone by what these ‘experts’ had deemed to be in the “national interest” we should have flown two and a half hours to Delhi, and then another nine hours to Venice, and that is assuming there existed a direct connection from Delhi to Venice.

The simple fact of geography is that India has a prominent north-south axis, while most international flights primarily demand east-west movement. To again take a personal example, Bangalore and Delhi lie along approximately the same longitude, so the effort that I would incur in order to fly from Bangalore to Delhi does nothing in order to cut down actual flying time to my destination in Europe or the Far East.

The reason Delhi has not developed so far as a hub is a function of geography – the very location of Delhi prevents it from being an effective hub of traffic. Located towards the northern tip of the country, it constitutes a detour for passengers originating from any of the other major cities. It does not do too well as a possible international hub, either. To put it another way, hubs in South East Asia (Singapore/ Kuala Lumpur/ Bangkok) and in West Asia (Dubai / Abu Dhabi / Doha) are already so far ahead of Delhi that even if Delhi aspires to be an international hub, it faces a major uphill task.

And it is not that any other Indian city can do better. The fundamental principle behind changing flights is that you break your journey into two approximately equal halves. And irrespective of where in India you put a hub, there will be little difference in total flying time to the ultimate destination. So people from other Indian cities (those that are not hubs) are always better off in changing flights at one of the hubs of East or West Asia (depending on where they are headed).

Due to the very nature of how international flying rights are designed, some countries have a natural advantage over others in terms of being hubs. The view that Delhi should be a hub for Indian international traffic despite its unfavourable location is a quintessential Delhi-centric view, and can hurt commerce in other Indian cities (by increasing total travel time). It is time for policy makers to acknowledge that Delhi is not geographically ideally located for that. And rather than continuing to clamour for a hub in Delhi, they should allow foreign carriers to put more flights to other Indian cities.

Karthik Shashidhar is the Resident Quant at the Takshashila Institution