Civil aviation in India is taking off, albeit slowly, to catch up with its global peers. All it needs to focus is on maintaining the quality and financial prudence
An Air-India plane, 1950
As the shadow of the pandemic is receding from India’s air traffic, air travel is getting back to normal. More than 100 million people are travelling domestically. This is expected to reach 166 million next year with all Covid-related restrictions gone and international travellers also moving freely. India is already the fourth-largest aviation market behind the US, China and Europe. The country has 129 operational airports. Indian skies saw 11,757,112 air movements towards end-March 2022, which is pushing the country to develop more airports. In the next four years, India expects the numbers to reach 220.
India was at pace with its global peers even before Independence and had a commercial fleet of 74 DC-3 Dakotas, 12 Vikings, three DC-4s and various smaller craft that largely carried royals, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and elites.
After Independence, the country opted for nationalisation mode and eight independent domestic airlines—Deccan Airways, Airways India, Bharat Airways, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga Airlines, Indian National Airways, Air India, and Air Services of India—were merged to form the domestic national carrier, India Airlines, whereas Tata group-owned international routes were taken over to form Air India. Eventually, in 2021, Air India was sold back to Tata Sons. In seven decades, the country’s skies have seen a massive change, though India might be slow in adding to air infrastructure like airports, upgrading the equipment and aeroplanes. Along with inefficiency in decision-making, the poor health of airlines and poor policies are to be blamed. In 1995, when India started opening up its skies to private players again, investments started flowing in. So did failures. Two big airlines—Kingfisher and Jet Airways—failed, and SpiceJet struggled financially and had to change many hands. Today, more than 10 private players provide passenger services. And players such as IndiGo, SpiceJet, Go Air and Vistara—a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines—are already flying to foreign shores. In fact, Vistara went ahead and is taking narrow-body aircraft on long-haul flights to London. SpiceJet is following suit, by opening up more markets for the Indian players.
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India might be slower than its global peers to take off, but make no mistake, it is catching up. All it needs to focus on is in maintaining quality.
Tope: An Air India plane among other aircraft at Mumbai airport, Oct. 2021; (Photo: Getty)