- Srinagar is the only airport in top 10 by traffic to surpass pre-COVID numbers
- One of the few sectors where capacity leader is not IndiGo
- IndiGo effectively using the A321neo to manage capacity
It is probably going to be a summer to remember for airlines and a welcome one after two summer seasons to forget. The season is showing positive signs of growth across various airports but some are doing exceptionally better than others!
One of them is Srinagar – in the union territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir. Flights have been pouring into and out of Srinagar. So much so that many flights are sold out on certain days and fares have hit the roof on many other days. Srinagar has made it to the top 10 routes in India by passenger as well as frequencies in the last few quarters. The unlikely entry is on the back of many business routes seeing a drop in frequencies as business travel has yet not made a comeback, fully. The route has also routinely featured in the list of routes which saw airlines sell fares in highest fare classes.
The Dal lake and surrounding areas like Gulmarg, amongst others are some of the many attractions of Srinagar. While in winter, the snow disrupts traffic leading to economic movement by air, the summer months sees tourist traffic to Srinagar and areas in and around Srinagar. Srinagar is the only airport in the top 10 domestic airports in the country (by passenger footfalls) which saw numbers in FY 2021-22 cross the pre-COVID levels.
Srinagar is a defence airport with a civil enclave maintained and operated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). While the runway movements are controlled by the Indian Air Force, the terminal handling is done by AAI. Airlines may look at adding additional flights but the current terminal capacity is full at all times which will hamper the airlines’ plan of adding capacity in the near term.
Go First starts a base
Go FIRST has been on the forefront of connectivity at Srinagar (along with Jammu and Leh). The airline has been operating flights to Srinagar and Jammu before indiGo started operations. It was the first (and only) airline to operate nonstop flights to Srinagar from Mumbai, over a decade ago. When the airline launched services to Leh in 2011, it was the only LCC operating to Leh, back then. Later, it became the first airline to start night operations from Srinagar. In another first, it has now started to base an aircraft at Srinagar – which provides a base departure to New Delhi and the last flight back to Srinagar from New Delhi.
The airline received approvals for basing aircraft at both Srinagar and Jammu and has been swift in utilizing some of those permissions.
Who is making the most of this rush?
The most popular sector is the Delhi – Srinagar sector.
Go FIRST operates eight daily frequencies, with IndiGo operating seven. SpiceJet has six flights, AirAsia India has four, Vistara has two while Air India has just one daily flight. Air India is operating two additional flights a week, while Vistara is operating a flight on Sunday only – which are in addition to their daily flights.
The demand is so high that Go FIRST, IndiGo, SpiceJet and Vistara are also operating flights from Mumbai to Srinagar. IndiGo and Go FIRST also operate to Srinagar from Amritsar and Chandigarh.
What about Jammu and Leh?
Jammu is part of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir while Leh is part of UT of Ladakh. Located in the mountainous region, Leh has operational challenges which restricts the flight hours. Jammu, on the other hand, recently saw upgrades which now allow aircraft to land without any load penalty. Both popular for different reasons and attracting different traffic. Both the airports have done well in terms of traffic, with Leh recording 37% higher traffic than pre-COVID for FY 21-22 while Jammu short by just 10%!
While Srinagar has an average of 18 flights a day from Delhi, Jammu has 12 and Leh has an average of 13.
For a student of network planning, this sector in current times is the best guide on how to deploy capacity when you have multiple types of aircraft in your fleet. IndiGo operates four of its seven frequencies with the A321neo. A look at the booking engine shows that these are the 232 seater aircraft (IndiGo has two configurations for the A321neo). IndiGo offers 1486 seats on the route with seven frequencies compared to 1488 seats offered by Go FIRST with eight frequencies. Back of the envelope calculations show that the sector profitability on a standalone basis would be higher for IndiGo!
Peace and normalcy in Kashmir, tourism returning back to the valley, airlines making money, more people flying – all in all a happy picture for everyone, except the last minute flyers who are going to pay through their nose to land in Srinagar in the next couple of weeks!