Airline fleet in India likely to expand by 181% by 2024, where is the infrastructure?

Last week, the Hon. Minister of Civil Aviation tabled before the parliament, proposed Fleet expansion of Airlines in India.

Fleet Induction plan

The plan submitted by airlines looks as below

Air India: Will induct 3 B777-300ER and 16 A320 aircraft between December 2017 and March 2019.

AirAsia India: Will induct 60 aircraft in the next 5 years.

Go Air: Will induct 119 aircraft till 2022.

IndiGo: 399 A320 and 49 ATR72-600 will be inducted in the next 7 to 8 years

Jet Airways: 5 B737-800 during 2017-18 and 81 B737 MAX8 between 2018 and 2024.

Spicejet: 107 B737 and 50 Q400 aircraft till 2023.

Vistara: 5 aircraft in 2018.

Trujet: 6 aircraft each year from 2018 to 2022.

Zoom Air: 5 CRJ200 till 2019 and 14 CRJ900 between 2019 and 2020.

While airlines have taken liberty to submit details for different periods, one thing that comes out of this plan is that we are already late in developing aviation infrastructure in the country.

From close to 550 commercial planes at the end of 2017, India could have over 1500 commercial aircraft by end of 2024, a growth of over 180% from the current day.

It is unlikely that the plan submitted by airlines would be implemented as-is. It is not a true indicator of active fleet strength, since the additional induction would also mean phasing out of few aircraft.

While major low cost carriers have submitted the plan for all their aircraft on order, airlines like Vistara which is likely to place an order for a mix of Narrow body and Wide body fleet has not submitted a plan for those aircraft. Same is the case with Jet Airways which has not included some of the aircraft it has on order. Air India has not included its subsidiaries – Air India Express and Alliance Air (Air India Regional).

Infrastructure cannot support this expansion

Barring Kochi, none of the top 10 airports in India by passenger traffic have room for growth. Mumbai – the second busiest in the country has run out of slots and the Navi Mumbai International Airport is yet to see any progress on the construction front.

While the induction plan of airlines is largely driven by low cost carriers, Delhi – the busiest airport in the country and also a large base for major LCCs in India will not allocate slots to them as it undergoes expansion of Terminal 1 from the where the major LCCs operate.

Government run Chennai, Ahmedabad & Kolkata are already in their last lap of growth with the peak hour traffic crossing the threshold of what the airports can handle and limited room for expansion. While Ahmedabad has seen a site identified at Dholera for its second airport, Kolkata and Chennai are far behind in this race.

Pune and Goa are defence airfields and have far outrun the capacity. Pune sees the highest deviation in the country between the planned terminal capacity & actual handling. While a private company has been awarded work for a new airport at Goa, a decade has been lost in identifying a site for proposed airport at Pune.

The next ten in the list of top airports by passenger numbers include those which either do not offer night parking facilities due to watch hour restrictions like Chandigarh & Srinagar or are running with capacity constraints like Jaipur, Guwahati or Patna.

While it is very easy to say that the growth would now come from hinterlands with connections to Tier II and Tier III cities, we need to understand that the market potential doesn’t exist for connecting a Tier III city to another Tier III city – it has to be connected to one of the larger metros which drives the economic activity at such smaller cities.

With night parking full at major metros, airlines like Go Air have started exploring alternative options like Nagpur. IndiGo was the first to avail night parking at Tier II cities and has now started parking at Guwahati. With a robust induction plan, soon the airline could be forced to open up newer bases like Indore / Nagpur / Bhopal which will put considerable strain on its yields since the early morning flights will have to be flown to places other than Delhi and Mumbai, which are prime markets for such Tier II cities.

India is becoming a classic case where the terminal, apron and runway capacity are not in sync almost at every single airport. A large newly built terminal at Mumbai not being able to handle more flights because of runway capacity, a small terminal at Pune handling 4 or 5 times its designed passenger capacity since the apron could accommodate more aircraft and Patna where the lines stretch outside the terminal and a temporary tent has been pitched for passengers, due to the lack of apron & terminal capacity but the runway being able to handle more flights.

We are already late; we cannot delay the airport infrastructure any more!

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