India’s aviation could be compared to a rollercoaster ride in 2019. The shutting down of the former Indian full-service carrier, Jet Airways, the slipping down of air passenger traffic, the controversial usage of the faulty Pratt and Whitney engines by Indian low-cost carriers were some of the events that have surfaced.
Although, there are some silver linings, including a robust global expansion by home-grown airlines such as Indigo, Spicejet and Vistara; and the foraying of international airlines like KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Azerbaijan Airlines, Scoot and Ethiopian Airlines into Indian sectors.
Given the highs and lows of Indian aviation, here is a low-down of events that could take place in the close future.
Privatisation of Air India:
Air India, which started as Tata Airlines in 1932 and later became state-owned, hasn’t made a profit since its 2007 merger with state-owned domestic operator Indian Airlines. The international carrier is burdened with $11 billion in debt.
According to a recent news report in the Times of India, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would wrap up the sale of Air India along with Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) by March 2020. The strategic disinvestment of the two state-run companies is critical for the government to meet its disinvestment target of ₹1 trillion for the current fiscal year.
Up until now Air India is struggling to find buyers, and the disinvestment strategies are unable to generate any revenue for the state-owned carrier. Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in a Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian parliament) meet, in December 2019 that the national airline Air India will have to shut down if not privatised. Therefore, this year will see the Indian government going all out to make the airline an even more lucrative product for investors. A recent industry report has also floated the idea of Etihad being a potential buyer alongside Indigo.
Boeing 737 Max fly over Indian airspace:
US aviation regulatory body, Federal Aviation Administration, has stated that a thorough safety check is being carried out before Boeing 737 Max gets back in the global airspace. India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is also closely reviewing the situation and may consider mandating a minimum number of flying hours for pilots of the 737 MAX, if it makes a comeback. In India, Spicejet is the only domestic carrier having MAX aircraft in its fleet.
India among top three aviation markets:
India will become the world’s third largest aviation market around 2024 surpassing the United Kingdom, according to global airlines’ body IATA’s 2018 report. India’s total air passenger numbers are projected to touch 8.2 billion in 2037.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI), a statutory body working under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India tweeted, “Gearing to be the world’s third largest civil aviation market, India is ramping up airport infra throughout the country. AAI’s role in making ‘Flying For All’ a reality, by making new airports, expanding capacity and revamping infrastructure has broadened India’s sky limit.”
Yet, volatility in fuel prices, high tax on aviation turbine fuel and governmental policy related matters need to be tackled to rampant India’s position in the global aviation market.
Complete digitalisation of airports
With the new biometric, face technology and body scanner systems, Indian airports and airlines are rapidly moving towards a fully tech-driven travel process. Bengaluru and Hyderabad airports are in the forefront of this big change — while biometric-based self-boarding solutions at Bengaluru have already begun, Hyderabad airport implemented an Automated Tray Retrieval System (ATRS) at domestic departures and body scanners. With initiatives like Digiyatra, a complete digitalisation of Indian airports and airlines doesn’t seem far away.