On India's Aviation Sector: Reaching For The Sky

3 months ago 12

India has done well in terms of passenger traffic and connectivity. Now it has to focus on upgrading services.

(Representational Image)

Four airlines operated nine flights to transport 5.65 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from Pune to 13 cities as India prepared to vaccinate its billion-strong citizenry. The commendable feat was made possible by the country’s aviation sector, recovering from one of the harshest setbacks in recent times. From transporting 19 million passengers in 1997 to 317 million passengers in FY19, Indian aviation has come a long way for a sector that was deregulated only in 1991. So much so that we are set to surpass the United Kingdom to become the world’s third largest aviation market by 2024.

The ministry of civil aviation’s vision document estimates air passenger traffic to grow six-fold by 2040. The number of operational airports is expected to double to around 200 from 101. The top 31 cities are likely to have two airports, and Delhi and Mumbai three each.

(Graphic and Illustration by Raj Verma)

The vision document also envisages a Nabh Nirman Fund with a starting corpus of $2 billion (approx. Rs 14,600 crore) to support low traffic points. To develop capacity, airports will be reclassified as international hubs, regional hubs and cost-effective other operational airports. Considering the idle airport capacity, greenfield airports will be allowed only where an existing airport is unable to meet projected demand.

In 2017, the government announced a regional connectivity scheme called UDAN or ‘Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik’, with the aim of connecting remote locations in the country by air at a subsidised fare. According to the ministry, 766 routes have been sanctioned under the Udan scheme. The Airports Authority of India is in the process of simplifying procedures and regulations and setting standards of performance in various areas of cargo handling to reduce ground delays. Total freight traffic is expected to grow at the rate of 8.2 per cent from 2018-19 to 2022-23. India’s fleet of commercial planes is likely to rise from 650 to 2,359 by 2040.

More automation, new approaches to airport design and more technology innovations are what the future holds for the aviation industry. Besides adding more planes and airports, the short-term objective is to clear incoming international passengers within 45 minutes of arrival and departing passengers in 60 minutes. For domestic flights, the target will be 30 and 45 minutes.

The phenomenal growth of the sector has also raised environmental concerns. India signed up for CORSIA or the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation in 2016, to participate in carbon-neutral growth from 2020. The domestic aviation sector may also have to brace itself for a prospective carbon tax.