Thursday, October 5, 2023

IndiGo & Air India’s Colossal Aircraft Orders Pose Infrastructure Challenge

By Staff Correspondent

At this year’s Paris Air Show, a flurry of ambitious orders from Indian airline giants – IndiGo and Air India – piqued industry interest. However, these orders, totalling a remarkable 970 aircraft, not only underscore the bullish stance of Indian carriers but also spotlight the challenges that loom over the nation’s civil aviation infrastructure.

By The Numbers

To put things in context, as of March, Indian airlines collectively boasted a fleet of 718 aircraft, as per data from the Press Information Bureau (PIB). Most of this fleet is dominated by narrow-body Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s, with only 55 wider aircraft in operation. “The size of these orders is astonishing when you consider the current holdings,” comments AK Sachdev, a former IAF officer turned senior airline executive.

Specifically, IndiGo placed an order for 500 A320 narrow-body jets. In contrast, Air India’s order is mixed, with 70 wide-body aircraft (comprising 40 A350s, 20 Boeing 787s, and 10 Boeing 777Xs). Given the substantially larger size of wide-body aircraft, their introduction imposes a significant strain on parking, taxiing, terminal facilities, and passenger processing.

The Slot Allocation Conundrum

Analysts highlight the saturation of current flight schedules – notably the Delhi to Mumbai route – which sees flights departing at nearly all hours, emphasising the scarcity of preferable timeslots for passengers. The introduction of nearly a thousand new aircraft begs the question: Where will these new planes be allocated slots?

Currently, the grant of a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for importing an aircraft comes with an implicit parking slot guarantee. However, major hubs like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru are already operating at near capacity. While upcoming airports in Jewar, Navi Mumbai, and the ongoing expansion at Bengaluru might offer some relief, it’s unlikely to suffice for the impending aircraft influx.

This could mean that many new aircraft might find their home in non-metro airports, a less-than-ideal scenario for airlines eyeing the lucrative passenger loads of major cities. The inevitable result? Smaller airlines may find themselves squeezed out, leading to a potential duopoly between IndiGo and Air India.

A Glimpse Of The Future?

While the Ministry of Civil Aviation has flagged plans for 21 new greenfield airports, augmenting the current 137 operational ones, the crux remains: Can they absorb the incoming 970 aircraft?

The push for regional air connectivity is commendable. Yet, this could inadvertently penalise smaller airlines, relegating them to regional routes and ceding the lucrative main sectors to IndiGo and Air India.

In sum, while the bulk aircraft orders signal a vote of confidence in Indian aviation’s growth prospects, they also serve as a clarion call for the urgent infrastructural upgrades and strategic planning required to accommodate this growth.

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