Govt pushes red-eye flights to ease traffic

Govt pushes red-eye flights to ease traffic

New Delhi: The ministry of civil aviation, in an attempt to ease congestion at large airports, plans to offer a set of incentives, including a waiver of landing, parking and navigation charges at airports, to encourage domestic airlines to start the so-called “red-eye" flights between midnight and dawn.

Late-night flights between 11pm and 5am are commonly called red-eye flights in reference to sleep-deprived passengers who travel on such flights. They are cheaper than day flights in countries such as the US, Europe and Australia. Some airlines in India operate late-night flights but they are too few in number, with the last domestic passenger flight at around midnight.

In March this year, the ministry had proposed differential tariffs for landing at the Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore airports in peak and non-peak hours, but that plan failed with airline companies declining to change their schedules.

The congestion at the Mumbai and New Delhi airports has eased since then with some measures taken to vacate runways of planes immediately upon landing, but it is still not uncommon to have planes waiting on the tarmac for at least 15-20 minutes awaiting clearance for take-offs.

The aviation ministry is not allowing additional flights at the New Delhi and Mumbai airports in the busy winter season, minister Praful Patel had said last month.

The aviation ministry says there is scope for airlines to increase flights in late-night hours especially to tap international passengers who need to take a connecting international flight late at night or early morning. “It could lower congestion," said a senior civil aviation official, who did not want to be named. The ministry has convened a meeting of domestic airline senior executives on 15 October to discuss the plan.

On Wednesday, some airlines were sceptical of the aviation ministry plan, while others said they will study commercial viability on routes before launching more flights.

“Unless there is going to be some major subsidy, I don’t see anyone moving flights to that time," said Jati Singh Dhillon, who heads operations at low-fare airline SpiceJet Ltd. Passengers can expect cheaper late-night flights only when there is some change in jet fuel prices; fuel makes up for up to 40% of an airline’s operating cost in India.

Jet Airways (India) Ltd, the country’s largest airline by passengers, is working on a plan to introduce red-eye flights but will only take a decision depending on viability of routes, said a company spokesperson.

The airline’s last three flights of the day, on which tickets are already 15% cheaper, are between 10.30pm and 12.30am and connect New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. That discount could increase to 20-25% based on commercial viability and the sops offered by the government, the spokesperson said.

A low-cost airline chief executive said he saw scope for more late-night flights in some sectors. “Goa during peak season is the sort of market that might fit the profile. That being said, will red-eye flights become hugely popular with customers, and will we see them grow to be a big percentage of all airlines’ capacity? I would tend to doubt it," said Bruce Ashby of Gurgaon-based IndiGo.

Travel time is also critical on such flights. For example, flights between the US east coast and west coast with a travelling time of at least six hours are convenient for daily passengers. In India, most key metros are within two hours of flying time. “We have to look into our conditions," said Saroj Dutta, executive director for Jet Airways, “A US transportation model cannot necessarily work here."