Indian carriers are all fuelled up but have nowhere to land

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New Delhi: India’s aviation growth is set to take a hit as key airports around the country have run out of preferred slots and parking space, putting the squeeze on the growth plans of domestic carriers. The problem is especially acute for newer carriers such as Vistara and AirAsia India, which are still in the initial phase of expansion and have been left with “undesirable” slots, experts said.

Airports in Mumbai and Delhi are only offering slots between 11 pm and 5 am. Pune and Goa are not offering slots for any new flights in the daytime. Airports in Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata do not have any new slots at peak timings– 6 am to 10 am in the morning and 5 pm to 9 pm in the evening. Airports in smaller towns and cities such as Jaipur, Jammu, Srinagar and Patna among others are not offering desirable slots either, frustrating domestic airlines.

Operators say they are working on improving efficiency and thus increasing flight movements. For instance, London’s Heathrow Airport had as many as 1,300 takeoffs and landings daily on average in 2017 from two runways while Delhi airport with three runways (two of them parallel to each other) had 1,259 movements in 2017-18.

“Some of the ongoing measures include maximising the airside capacity, increasing the efficiency of the airfield and working with AAI (Airports Authority of India) on training and procedure issues,” a spokesperson for Delhi International Airport Ltd said in an email.

The airport at Bengaluru is also trying to do the same.

Sudden jolt

“In order to keep pace with the growth, BIAL (Bangalore International Airport Ltd) ensures that we work with all airlines to ensure that their requirements are accommodated in the best possible manner,” said a spokesperson. Mumbai airport and state owned AAI did not respond to queries.

India isn’t alone in facing an airport crunch — the trend is visible all across the world. An International Air Transport Association (IATA) report in December 2017 said capacity is constrained at about 300 airports and is going to get more severe, as capacity addition is not in sync with growth. However, the problem is even more critical for a country like India where air travel is set to grow rapidly as the government looks to link smaller and less well-served areas under its regional connectivity programme.

Aviation analysts said the government needs to address the issue urgently.

“Airport infrastructure shortages are now a key structural risk for the aviation industry and the entire economy,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO and director at CAPA India, an aviation consultancy firm. “The Indian airport system urgently needs a complete overhaul or we expect that it will impact growth and Increase costs with complexities as airline operations will be spread across airports.”

An airline executive said that newer airlines such as Vistara and AirAsia India are worst hit.

“At Mumbai airport, older airlines have 97% of the slots and the rest 3% with the new carrier,” he said. “There is no slot to expand in Mumbai and the situation is similar at all key airports. This makes our expansion even more difficult.” AirAsia India does not fly to Mumbai.

At Delhi and Bengaluru, the older carriers have 89% and 86% of the total slots, respectively.

At Chennai and Pune airports, the figures are 93% and 91%, respectively.

Parking space is as tight. All airports, excluding Mumbai, have started work on building bays. AAI has firmed up plans to add 273 parking bays at 24 airports to help resolve parking woes.

Mumbai, which is full to capacity, is getting a new airport at Navi Mumbai that’s expected to be ready by the end of 2019.

“Barring Mumbai, all airport operators are building parking bays but there are no early morning slots available from those airports,” said a senior airline executive.

“So, many of these parking bays may not be of any use if there are no slots in the morning to fly out our planes from these airports.”

Aviation ministry officials acknowledged the problem but said the solution lies in building new airports and upgrading existing ones.

“We have approved various airports projects across the country,” said a senior aviation ministry official. “The problem should ease when these airports come up. In the meantime, we are also looking at upgrading our existing assets so that they are able to handle more planes.” With no solution in sight, airlines are planning more night-time flights. IndiGo said it plans a so-called red-eye flight out of Mumbai at a meeting held in the ministry to discuss infrastructure issues. “But considering no city in India, barring Mumbai, has a night life it will be difficult to fill flights at these hours,” said the ministry official cited above.


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