Indian aviation: A mass market takeoff is in everyone’s interest | Mint

Indian aviation: A mass market takeoff is in everyone’s interest

Capacity left unused is costly for a market set for a boom in demand.
Capacity left unused is costly for a market set for a boom in demand.

Summary

  • An expected flying boom, apart from the government’s effort to make India an aviation hub, is set to give global aircraft and service suppliers an indirect stake in a smooth mass-market takeoff.

Last week, civil aviation authorities issued Indian airlines an alert on GPS spoofing, which refers to unauthorized agents intercepting satellite signals to send airborne aircraft fake instructions. Though a worldwide problem, instances of such hacking have risen over West Asia lately, and the risk it poses cannot be taken lightly. Flights have even ventured without permission into Iranian airspace as a result of being misled. If spurious messages can send commercial aircraft off-course, they could be mistaken for enemy intrusions and shot down. It could also interfere with onboard flight management systems or distort gauges for fuel, altitude, speed and other readings—with grave consequences. A solution by way of a technical fix to fend off flight hackers could take time. In the meantime, pilots must not just be cautioned but also trained to detect spoofing attempts. It is this sector’s misfortune that such a worry has arisen at a time of high flux. Domestic demand for flying has revived after the covid pandemic, but global supply chain snarls and other factors have left capacity constraints in place. A major problem of Indian aviation at this juncture is a high proportion of grounded aircraft.

According to aviation consultancy CAPA India, the country’s tally of such planes could reach 200 by the end of 2023-24. This would be every fourth aircraft with Indian carriers, whose total fleet size is projected at 790 by then. The current count of planes kept idle till they can fly again is over 160. Some of this is on account of servicing delays, as seen in the case of GoAir (renamed Go First), which suspended flights in May and said it had to file for insolvency as Pratt & Whitney had failed to repair or replace some of its plane’s engines in time. Airlines in mature markets like the US and Europe with similar snags appeared to get priority, for obvious commercial reasons, while Indian carriers have had to wait, like others in less developed parts of the world. In the case of Go First’s grounded fleet, attempts by lessors to reclaim their leased planes encountered a legal haze that the Centre recently moved to clear up. Its stuck aircraft number just 54, though, while CAPA expects market leader Indigo to have 90 odd aircraft idle on the tarmac by end-March; Air India and SpiceJet could have 25-30 each.

Capacity left unused is costly for a market set for a boom in demand. Rising prosperity means millions of more people will take to the skies, even as new airports being opened mean a more expansive air-map. While our aviation market is still small in comparison with America’s and China’s, a takeoff point is reckoned to be close, after which a sharp incline in flier numbers is likely to push it into catch-up mode. The jumbo orders for new aircraft placed by IndiGo and Air India this year are aimed at serving a vastly enlarged base of air travellers. This prospect also lends weight to New Delhi’s effort to make India a global aviation hub by attracting plane-makers and their partners to set up full service centres, supply chains and other operations here. What is of concern, however, is the level of domestic rivalry left. Jet Airways, which went bust in 2019, is yet to return to the skies. Go First is short of bidders. Sure, the entry of Akasa Air ups competition, but not by enough to mitigate a near-duopoly under Indigo and Tata carriers (after the group snapped up Air India). Even so, what’s more evident are fast-rising air-travel aspirations in a fast-emerging economy. It’s clearly in the global aircraft and servicing industry’s interest to aid a smooth take-off.

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