by Amit Sharma
India is set to displace United Kingdom as the third largest civil aviation market by 2025. Currently, only 5% of 1.3 billion Indians travel by air, and they make close to 200 million trips per year. This points to tremendous growth potential, however, multiple challenges abound in the path towards achieving the ambitious goal of ensuring one billion trips per annum over the next 15-20 years.
Airports are the focal point
According to data tabled in the Parliament on 2nd August 2018, of the 7,200 complaints against domestic air carriers received in the last 20 months, 2,233 were related to flight delays alone arising mostly due to congestion at airports. Most instructive was the government’s response in the Parliament on 9th August 2018, which revealed that out of the Rs 4,086 crore allocated for airport development and upgradation, the Airport Authority of India had spent only Rs 345.06 crores up to 30th June, 2018.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation’s proposed Vision 2035, is expected to provide a roadmap for realizing the aspirations of a country that is hungry to fly like never before. This blueprint aims to provide the necessary infrastructure required for the industry to grow unhindered. This requires de-congesting airports and airspace, as well as providing the right kind of expertise and investment in order to create an ecosystem that can support the future. With all this falling in place over time, the sector will create space and opportunity for private players to contribute with their expertise and grow along with.
Putting people to work
The civil aviation industry employs two lakh people directly and about 1.2 million indirectly. It is not just airlines and airport development that create jobs but also labour intensive functions like ground handling and cargo warehousing. In 2017, the sector generated revenue close to Rs2 lakh crore. The current government expects revenue to increase to Rs8-10 lakh crore and the number of people employed directly by the sector to swell to six million in the next 15-20 years. The significance of this sector to the future growth of India’s economy cannot be overstated, especially in priority areas such as job creation.
Although Vision 2035 seems to be the tailwind needed to power the growth of India’s civil aviation industry, a lot will depend on the priority accorded by policy makers to less-discussed but important aspects such as professional ground handling and cargo warehousing. Ground handling and cargo warehousing provide the necessary logistical support and expertise that is required to process aircraft and cargo movement at the ports. Given their crucial role in enhancing operational safety and yielding productivity gains for airlines and other stakeholders, ensuring an ecosystem for their harmonized growth shall go a long way in helping India achieve safe, secure, affordable and sustainable air travel for passengers and air transportation of cargo with access to various parts of the country and the world.
India’s aviation sector can be developed to world class standards by bringing in the right players with the requisite experience who imbibe international best practices, ensure optimum utilization of resources, invest in skill development and create a more efficient and busy hub.
The challenge that lies ahead for policy makers is to connect the different dots in India’s civil aviation landscape, ensuring that various aviation sub-sectors aren’t neglected and policies are not pigeonholed. One expects that the government will continue to stay the course by creating a collaborative, open and consultative environment and ensure that it supports all stakeholders who will be playing a part in this fascinating growth story. If these concerns are addressed in letter and spirit, the industry will continue to soar and soon become the mascot of India’s economic renaissance.
Amit Sharma is a Communications Consultant and a former aviation journalist.