India’s domestic air passenger traffic growth slowed to 3.74% in 2019 from 18.60% in 2018, amid a subdued economy and the grounding of Jet Airways (India) Ltd.
Domestic scheduled carriers carried 144.17 million passengers during 2019, against 138.98 million passengers in 2018, data issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Monday showed.
“This is a bit disappointing. In 2019, we faced headwinds on account of Jet Airways but 2020 is going to be different and the double-digit growth should be back sooner rather than later," a DGCA official said on condition of anonymity.
InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, which operates IndiGo, strengthened its leadership, carrying nearly one in every two passengers. Its market share stood at 47.1% during 2019, up from 41.5% in 2018. The airline carried 67.91 million passengers in 2019, up from nearly 57.62 million in 2018.
Low-fare airline SpiceJet Ltd flew 21.53 million passengers, achieving 14.9% market share in 2019. The Ajay Singh-led airline had carried 17.1 million passengers in 2018, with a market share of 12.3%.
State-run Air India Ltd clocked a 12.7% domestic market share, flying 18.36 million passengers in 2019. The airline had a similar market share during the previous year.
“It started as a market correction, (and) overcapacity was resulting in destructive pricing. Unfortunately, the capacity was not allowed to freely exit market, as distribution of Jet Airways’ slots and rights were made contingent on airlines bringing in incremental capacity," said Vistara’s former chief strategy and commercial officer Sanjiv Kapoor.
“Also, the situation is going to get worse as there are a large number of aircraft coming in, with limited places to deploy them profitably," he added.
Since Jet Airways shut shop in April, Indian airlines have seen a couple of good quarters, followed by quarters that saw huge losses. Attempting to capture the vacuum left by Jet, rivals cut fares and added capacity. The airlines could not raise fares even in the December quarter, traditionally a strong one for airlines.
Indian airlines are expected to post an aggregate loss of over $600 million in FY20, consultant Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa) India said in a recent report, against its own previous estimate of a full-year profit of $500-700 million.
The cash position of the industry remains under pressure, with corresponding risks.
Apart from IndiGo, most airlines are precariously placed, with cash balances available—in some cases—to cover only a few days or weeks of expenses, Capa added.