The ban on new flights at the Delhi and Mumbai airports, slated to end after October, is being extended through the entire winter season due to lack of slots and limited ground infrastructure at these airports, according to civil aviation minister Praful Patel.
The extension of the ban could also mean potentially higher fares for passengers flying in and out of these two busy airports during winter, in what is typically the busiest time of the year for passengers.
The start of the winter season might see another rise in airfare, said Kapil Kaul of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, since the traffic in the winter schedule (October-February), which folds in the festival season, is the peak travel season for the year.
Given the consolidation in the industry over the past six months, airlines may increase fares between Rs200 and Rs250. A fuel surcharge increase of Rs150 has already been introduced by airlines this month, increasing air fares across all sectors.
Under the flight restrictions imposed by the government earlier this year, the number of flights at these busy—and very lucrative—airports was capped at 35 per hour for Delhi and 30 for Mumbai. Both airports have completed a year of modernization under the new airport operators.
The ban “will (go) when the infrastructure constraints are gone; (in the next) summer schedule,” Patel told Mint.
Much of those infrastructure constraints, at least in Delhi, are only expected to ease by mid-2008 when the Delhi airport commissions its second runway, which is under construction. The Delhi airport had handled about 650 flights a day in June. The Mumbai airport, which handled an average of 607 daily flights in June, is likely to continue with the same set of runways and, therefore, will likely see little change.
Flight permissions to the country’s airports are granted every year during the start of the winter schedule in October and summer season in April by the civil aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, after discussions with airlines that typically last two days.
“It’s never a congenial meeting. It’s a do-or-die situation (for all the airlines); but ultimately, they have to work it out (among what’s on offer),” said a Kingfisher Airlines official familiar with the process.
The fight for slots at Delhi and Mumbai is critical for scheduled airlines because these are among the most profitable routes, and getting more peak hour slots (usually in the morning and evening) means attracting more corporate travellers, who tend to pay full fares.
“It (the flight restriction) will hurt everyone. But we have enough stations to go to,” said Siddhanta Sharma, CEO of low-cost carrier SpiceJet.
The airline is inducting roughly one aircraft a month this year to its fleet of 13 aircraft, adding smaller cities to its route map, such as Kochi.