By Kamal Shah
India is primed to be the spearhead of the global aviation comeback. With a current catalogue of 220 aircraft on order and $330 billion potential for 2200 units over the next 20 years, there is no holding back. “I will have 40 crore flyers by 2024,” says Union Minister of Civil Aviation, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and will make flying as common as catching a train or a bus. Jyotiraditya Scindia had an engaging conversation with Kamal Shah, Editorial Director of Indian Aerospace & Defence.
Q. You recently highlighted that India is expected to see 400 million air travellers in the next 7 to 10 years. How do you see the developmental effects of passenger growth impacting other sectors within the civil aviation industry, like airports and airlines? Will we have a large enough fleet size to cater to these passenger numbers?
Ans: We are looking at a significant expansion in passenger traffic. This acceleration in passenger numbers will have an impact on both the airport and airline industries, respectively. 2019 was a good year and saw a growth of 200 million passengers, and we foresee passenger numbers reaching 400 million in the next six to seven years. This has accelerated the growth of other domains of the civil aviation industry as well.
For instance, there has been a recorded capacity expansion from 400 planes between 2013-2014 to almost 700 planes in the present day. Coming to the airport sector, there were about 74 airports prior to 2013-2014; now, there has been an addition of 67 airports which has taken our numbers close to 141. The number of aircraft have grown significantly as well with capacity addition of about 15% each year. That is an addition to around 100 planes annually, and the expansion is sector-wide.
Q. Could you talk about the expansion across the spectrum of the civil aviation industry ranging from Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) to Flight Training Organisations (FTO) all the way to the cargo sector? Where do they stand today, and could you paint a data-driven picture of how it may shape up in the coming decade?
Ans: A prominent and ever-growing footprint is observed across the civil aviation sector, and this spans across the board, catering to numerous industry stakeholders ranging from the MRO industry, FTOs, and the cargo sector. An excellent example of this would be Safran’s recent $150 million investment in their MRO facility in Hyderabad. Similarly, on the FTO side, you will see tremendous growth.
To paint a data-driven picture for your readers, we have 34 FTOs today and will grow with nine more FTOs in this fiscal year and six more in the next fiscal year, taking it to a total of 49. Our capacity in the cargo sector is going to increase exponentially as well. We are looking at nearly 10 million tonnes capacity by 2030 from two to three million. These numbers present a case showcasing overall growth, and you will continue to see the ecosystem of civil aviation gaining a firm footprint.
Q. Do you see the development of a broader national aerospace ecosystem in India, which emphasises dual-use innovations, technologies and facilities that will help serve the needs of both commercial and military aviation?
Ans: The aerospace ecosystem grows synergistically along with the airline and airport, but you need to have minimum economies of scale before the frontrunners come and supplant themselves. India has achieved that economy of scale today; therefore, I see the ecosystem taking firm roots in India in the next couple of years.
Air cargo operations underway; Representational Image
Q. The relationship between civil and military aviation is close yet often unnoticed. What is the present status of civil-defence coordination in India’s aviation sector, and is there a roadmap to establish a dual-purpose ecosystem?
Ans: The user base of both highly specialised domains will be completely separate; however, synergies between the two need to be explored. Fighter aircraft and transport aircraft are different from civilian aircraft. There are specific shared ecosystems, however, there are major differences. Substantial work is already being done to establish some commonalities. We are attracting large investments, and this will continue to happen. Civil-military convergence is one of the areas that will continue to grow in the future.
Q. The novel (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagarik) UDAN scheme has been your brainchild; how has the execution of the idea progressed?
Ans: UDAN has been an enormous success since 2016; we are now six years into the programme. We have flown almost one lakh ninety thousand flights and flown nearly a crore people in these six years. It has also enabled the launch of close to 11 civil aviation start-ups, from regional to small airlines. We have connected more than 954 routes, out of which close 433 routes are operating.
We have built almost 68 airports, waterdromes, and heliports; the target is to reach 1000 routes by 2026, which is when there is a sunset clause on this scheme, as well as reach 100 airports, so we have 30 more airports to build out and close around 570 routes to be operationalised, and I am very confident about achieving both in the next five to six years.
We have completed 68 airports and 433 routes built out in five and a half years, mind you, in which two and a half years have gone in COVID-19. This represents a tremendous amount of growth through UDAN. Due to this scheme, regional traffic is coming to the fore, especially in tier-two and tier-three cities.
Q. New Delhi recently witnessed the flagship Bharat Drone Mahotsav 2022. The mega event showcased numerous promising solutions and applications by promising start-ups. Where do you see the Indian Drone Market in the next five years, and how will your ministry nurture the drone-start-up ecosystem?
Ans: Drones are an exceptional area of the future, and there is going to be a tremendous amount of growth, and I am really confident that the foundation put in the palace with the drone policy; the PLI scheme and the demand creation by aligned ministries make it one of the most dynamic sectors of our times. The turnover of 23 PLI-recognised companies has grown from Rs. 88 crores to Rs. 319 crores in a period of almost 10-11 months, and I see that growth continuing.