Aviation has really started on its growth curve in India now and the Delhi airport will become the world’s second-largest airport by the end of the year, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has said.
In an exclusive interview with NDTV on Wednesday, Mr Scindia said civil aviation infrastructure in the country has expanded at a “scorching” pace under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Delhi airport has a throughput capability of 70 million, which will go up to 109 million come December. That means that Delhi is going to become one of the largest airports in the world. We are going to be second, if at all, only to Atlanta. So that’s the scale that you are looking at.”
Throughput capacity, in this case, refers to the number of passengers that an airport can handle in a year.
The minister said the Jewar airport will be inaugurated in the next 12 months and its capacity will grow to 60 million by 2030. So, between Jewar and Delhi, there will be a throughput capacity of 160 million.
On last-minute airfares going up massively in some sectors a couple of months ago, and the argument for government involvement in regulating fares, Mr Scindia said, “Civil aviation is a deregulated sector. What happened in June was an anomaly… That was a time of high prices and you had an airline with almost 30 aircraft being grounded. So, capacity got sucked out of the system.”
“You had a double whammy and therefore you had some cities – including Srinagar, Pune and Goa- which were primarily connected by GoFirst that had an abnormal rise in fares. We had a meeting with the airlines on June 5 and I said that this is not tenable and this is not right. We had a free and frank discussion, and soon after that you saw the normalisation of fares,” he added.
Asked about when India can become an international aviation hub like Singapore, Dubai or Doha, Mr Scindia pointed out that, since 2014, the number of airports has gone up from 74 to 149 – with the new Utkela airport in Odisha being inaugurated three days ago – the fleet size has risen from 400 to 700 and the number of passengers has increased from 6 crore to nearly 14.5 crore.
He said that, by 2030, the number of airports is projected to go up to 220 – an increase of nearly 50% – the number of planes will more than double to 1,500 and the passenger count will nearly triple and touch 42.5 crore. The minister said that must happen on the international side because, until now, Indian carriers have been “very concentrated” on growing capacity on the domestic side.
Pointing to the large orders for aircraft placed by Air India and IndiGo, he said, “India, for too long, has had its hub either on the eastern border or the western border. We are currently working with Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) to look at setting up a hub in Delhi to start with. In the next decade or so, the capability of India to have not necessarily one hub but multiple hubs – one in Delhi, one in South India, one on the western side – is certainly there.
“We need to start with one and then replicate that going forward. Too many of our travellers today go via a third country and I think it is important to look at direct flights and create that hub structure within India,” he added.
Pressed on a timeline, Mr Scindia said, “You could look at a roadmap of five years. I would want it to be sooner but I am not going to divulge a date closer than five years. I think it is important to under-commit and over-deliver.”
‘Bulwark Of Transportation’
Mr Scindia said the government has already planned for catering to an increase in passenger numbers, and the private sector and public sector have a very aggressive infrastructure capital expenditure plan in place. The amount is close to Rs 98,000 crore in 3-5 years.
“There is a huge thrust in civil aviation. I am putting my neck out there on the line, but I believe, in the next decade or so, civil aviation is going to become the bulwark of transportation in India for a larger number of people. Even larger than just the First AC and Second AC of the railways, because our competition is the AC product, since an aircraft is air-conditioned,” the minister said.
To a question on his conversations with airlines on boorish passengers, which is a global phenomenon, the BJP leader said that is a “wild card” in a way.
“No one knows how you or I are going to behave when we board a flight. But it is important to set examples and precedents and we have been extremely strong on coming down on any unruly passenger on any of our airlines. This may be through following the legal process or putting the person on a no-fly list for an extended period,” Mr Scindia said.
He added that the processes which the government has at its command are used completely. “When you fly, you are not only responsible for yourself, you are also responsible for everyone else on that flight. You need to board that plane with that sense of responsibility,” he warned.
UDAN Progress Slow?
Asked about the Comptroller and Auditor General report on the Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN) scheme, which stated that 52% of awarded regional routes could not commence operations and only 30% which commenced operations have completed three years during the initial period, Mr Scindia said he prefers to look at it as a glass-half-full situation.
The BJP leader said it has only been seven years since the scheme began and India has seen 495 new routes linking places that were never connected by civil aviation. “Cities that were on the civil aviation map in World War II, and were obliterated from that map soon after, are also now being reconnected – cases in point being Jharsuguda in Odisha, Rupsi in Assam, Darbhanga in Bihar and Kishanganj in Rajasthan,” he said.
The minister went out to list the achievements of UDAN and said that every scheme has to have a sunset clause. He argued that the viability gap funding for a route is for three years and, if it is not viable after that, other routes will need to be looked at. He claimed that 25-30% of the routes have become sustainable.
Airlines In Distress
On the troubles that airlines like SpiceJet and GoFirst are facing and whether that raises the spectre of a duopoly, which could be bad for the customer because of rising fares, the minister said the aviation business is an inelastic one in terms of pricing.
“That being said, as the civil aviation minister, I would like to have a minimum of four-five players in the space. While we do talk about airlines that are undergoing some issues, which is pertaining to their way of doing business and not the industry in itself, so there is very little that one can do to intervene,” Mr Scindia said.
“For the first time in over two decades, you have seen a new airline being born in India in the form of Akasa. And you have seen that fledgling airline go from two aircraft to 20 in a period of 12 months. Now that’s a record across the world. It is also important to focus on regional airlines. The UDAN scheme has not only connected cities but it has, in its wake, given birth to three to four new airlines – Fly91, FlyBig, IndiaOne Air and Star Air,” he added.
The minister said there is a huge spurt in regional connectivity not just from Tier 1 to Tier II but even from Tier III to Tier IV cities. He added that this “revolution” will unfold in the next couple of years.