SpiceJet, the discount carrier controlled by the billionaire Kalanithi Maran, will add flights to mainland China as trade expands between India and its neighbour amid intensifying competition at home.
The carrier, which flies four times a week to Guangzhou, plans to fly to three more destinations on the mainland this year as it taps business and leisure travellers from both countries, chief executive Neil Mills said.
The state-owned Air India is the only other local carrier that offers direct services connecting the combined 2.5 billion people in India and the mainland.
"You've got over a third of the world's population in two countries that sit side by side, but they are almost not connected by air," Mills said. "It's not logical at all. It's like not having a connection between the US and Canada."
The mainland is India's second-largest trading partner, with bilateral volume doubling in four years to US$75.6 billion in the 12 months to the end of March 2012, according to India's commerce ministry. Air India operates four flights a week between Delhi and Shanghai.
Mark Martin, chief executive of the Dubai-based consulting firm Martin Consulting, which advises airlines on cost optimisation and fleet strategy, said: "It'll be a pretty smart move by SpiceJet. China is one segment where traffic will consistently grow and it's one of India's biggest trading partners. This will pay off in times to come."
While trade ties are deepening between the two countries, tourism has yet to take off, limiting SpiceJet's ability to fill seats on its planes, said Mahantesh Sabarad, an analyst with Fortune Equity Brokers in Mumbai.
In 2011, 142,000 Chinese people visited India, or 2.25 per cent of the total arrivals.