Thursday, July 25, 2024

India: A Runway Ahead Of The Rest

By Kamal Shah

If the attendees at Wings India 2022 were the cavalry coming to the rescue of a beleaguered aviation industry, they were well led and well-timed. Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia spearheaded the rallying call, and in the frontline, the Chief Executive Officers and representatives made for an impressive posse. It says a lot about the Indian role in civil aviation in the region and globally. Present and ready to take on the challenge were the CEOs of the top airlines like Vistara, Indigo, Air Asia, SpiceJet, Akasa, and Jet, all of whom seem to be on the same page where the need for giving aviation a boost was mandated.

Among others who attended were the Chairman Airport Authority of India, GMR-Delhi and Hyderabad Airports, Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala and Airbus President India Rami Millard and Boeing President Salil Gupte. Adding to the strength was the presence of Embraer and power plant manufacturers GE, Pratt & Whitney, CFM, and cargo airlines FedEx and Blue Dart.

The minister put it succinctly when he spoke of the S factor: “Every industry has an S shape, starting with a sort of a lower slope, if you will when an industry is in nascence and then an upward slope as it gains growth, and then again, a flat slope as it gains maturity. And I think India is somewhere at the beginning of the growth phase where you will see healthy gatherings going forward.”

For the third largest aviation entity in the world, with a possible threefold increase in the next three years in traffic uplift, we are talking millions. At present, 144 million people are accessing airlines. If soon that number can rise to 400 million, which is still less than 40 percent of the country, it calls for a complete revolution in the industry in terms of aircraft, infrastructure and across the board employment.

The trick lies in regional interconnectivity and creating a network of small-town airports that feed others like themselves and hub ports, thereby creating a viable and exciting new dimension to India’s often slow progress these past decades.

“Regional Connectivity Scheme- RCS 2.0” was clearly the buzzword at Wings India 2022. The fact that the success of the Indian aviation dream lies in tier II and Tier III cities resonates with the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “India Lives in its Villages”.

This new thinking was accurately reflected in the Airbus special report on India released at the venue. India will require 2,210 new aircraft over the next 20 years; that fleet could comprise 1,770 new small and 440 medium and large aircraft.  

Over the next decade, India will grow to have the largest population in the world, its economy will grow the fastest among the G20 nations, and a burgeoning middle class will spend more on air travel. As a result, passenger traffic in India will grow at 6.2% per annum by 2040, the fastest among the major economies and well above the global average of 3.9%.  

Airbus did not stop here. To serve its growing aviation industry, India will require an additional 34,000 pilots and 45,000 technicians by 2040. It was irresistible for Airbus to do a little market sell with these figures. The complete Airbus product line comprises the only aircraft specifically designed for the small single-aisle market, the A220, the world’s best-selling A320 family, the mid-size widebody A330/330neo and the Long-Range Leader, the A350. There stood an A350 in full splendour to offer the right optics and likely to be a strong contender for the queen of the skies.

Also grasping the sharp Indian growth, Embraer brought its E195 to the show with an assurance that the aircraft was a first-rate choice as the interior opened up. Embraer tested thousands of wing designs, including dozens in the wind tunnel, and selected a tapered design over having the winglets, as seen on the previous generation of its aircraft. Other improvements include new landing gear doors and redesigned air inlets to help gain aerodynamic efficiencies. Overall, the efficiencies gained give it a 25% lower fuel burn than first-generation E-Jets, with the latest E195-E2, specifically, boasting an 11% lower operating cost than the Airbus A220-300, according to Embraer.

When the Indian minister addressed the various carriers’ CEOs, he made one succinct remark. His ministry would be a constructive collaborator and not a restrictive regulator. This supportive approach had to strike a high note of confidence in an industry often tied down by bureaucratic interference and delay.

It is not just passengers. Cargo and freight will also get a considerable boost, and food per se will reduce its wastage quotient by providing a far swifter delivery to the end-user. At Wings, the presence of FedEx and Blue Dart indicated they also feel that India is now the market to exploit in mutually beneficial terms. As it accesses the hinterland, the courier service could one day be the prime delivery feeder for online shopping, which is now a given in India’s new society.

Like the Gandhian sentiment, Marshall Maclughan said the world is a global village. It is almost 40 years since he wrote that phrase in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy. He argued that electronic technology was shrinking the planet: “Time has ceased, and space has vanished”. That submission was almost a laughable contention then if compared to the shrinkage now.

With airports coming up rapidly and currently nine in the building, there is much more to do. Scindia elaborated that the government is committed to improving connectivity on both regional and long haul international routes and has set a target of raising the number of airports to 220 by 2025 from 136 at present.

“We have jumped from 74 airports in the last 70 years to 62 (more) airports in the previous seven years. Now we have 136 airports. However, that is not where we are going to stop. We have a target of 220 airports by 2025, including heliport and water ports. The task before us is gigantic.

A sterling example of this thrust is the Noida airport. Zurich Airport International is responsible for the largest landing set up in Asia being constructed near the town of Jewar in Gautam Buddh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh. It is scheduled to be operational by 2024. Christoph Schnellmann, CEO of Noida International Airport, told IA&D exclusively,” For us, the project is about 2 years old, since when we won the rights. We have been busy designing the airport and setting up the engineering and infrastructure for the last two years, and we managed to get the funding. We now have the end of 2024 to make it operational.”

While initially, the airport will be designed and able to handle 12 million passengers with a single runway and terminal building and all ancillary roads and utilities. However, the airport will see expansion with an additional runway and will be designed to handle 70 million passengers during the 40 years of concession that it has been given.

The Uttar Pradesh government is looking to the Noida International Airport to become a key economic hub in the region. The excitement is visible as states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are also drawing plans to expand the number of districts they wish to connect with major metros. The success of the Belgavi airport, which has 112 weekly flights to various destinations, has motivated the Karnataka government to plan bigger to connect northern districts of the state.

Two other aspects are vital. The first is leasing. With the logjam in deliveries, this option will have to be activated. Scindia was clear on this.

“I think this is an extremely important area that needs to be expanded in India considering we have a 710 strong fleet today, which is going to grow in aircraft strength between 15-20% per annum- 100-150 planes per year- over the next 20 years to an addition of almost two and a half thousand planes into our fleet. In terms of funding, leasing is something that we have already taken up in our last meeting with the ministry of finance to encourage Indian banks to look at leasing as a key area for operations in terms of leasing of aircraft.

The other aspect is helicopters. They are the perfect low-density high frequency alternative to fixed-wing aircraft. While Flybig in the eastern states uses ATR 72s and Otters and establishes a new order by opening up the interior and saving up to 87 percent in time, the addition of a chopper service across rural India, even if it is 12 seaters would galvanise transit of people and goods.

This government seems to have that and many other aspects right.

AWARDS

In a special function organised at Taj Krishna, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Minister of Civil Aviation, Government of India, presented Wings India Awards 2022. Rajiv Bansal, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation of the government, and past president of FICCI Sangita Reddy also graced the occasion.

  • The Aviation Innovation Award was bagged by Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL); Spicejet, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Stelace Technology.
  • GMR Aviation Academy, CATC AAI got Best Agency for Providing Aviation Skills & Training; Sarang team as India’s only indigenous military Helicopter display team with Indian Air Force; Cochin Airport and Delhi Intl Airport Ltd (DIAL) got COVID Champions Award; Indian Oil SkyTanking was named as Best Aviation Fuel Service Provider.
  • Bengaluru International Airport received the ‘Aviation Innovation Award for Excellence in Innovation. 
  • BIAL was adjudged as the Best Airport in General Category at more than 25 million, and HIAL, GMR Hyderabad International Airport under less than 25 million category announced as the Best Airport.
  • FlyBig and Pawan Hans were recognised as the Best Airlines/Helicopter Operators under Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) and Hubbali Best Airport (RCS).
  • In Aviation Sustainability & Environment Delhi and MAIL (Mumbai Airport), in Airline Category TATA SIA Airlines Ltd, and in Manufacturing, Airbus was recognised with awards.
  • Bird Group and Air India SATS bagged the Best Ground Handling Service award.
  • JetSetGo and Himalayan Heli Services Ltd were adjudged as the Best Non-Scheduled Operator.
  • Air India Express and Air Works got recognition for COVID-19 Continuity.
  • Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka states were declared the Most Dynamic States in Aviation.
  • Vistara bags three awards’ Best Domestic Airline,’ ‘Aviation Sustainability,’ and ‘Environment and Covid Champions’ at Wings India 2022. 
  • Star Air awarded Best Domestic Airline (RCS) at Wings India 2022
  • Mizoram was awarded the UDAN award for being the ‘Most Proactive State’ 
  • Air Works won the ‘Best MRO Service Provider Award’. 
  • GUJSAIL was conferred the award for the ‘Best State With A Dedicated Outlook For The Sector’


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