Indian Airlines Facing Major Slot Constraints

 - October 3, 2017, 9:40 AM

Capacity constraints caused by a lack of parking slots have stifled growth at Mumbai International Airport, prompting the likes of Air India and Jet Airways to adjust fleet-planning strategies to compensate. The hardest-hit city pair—Mumbai-Delhi—ranks as the sixth busiest in the world, according to the OAG, and accounts for more than 45 percent of the domestic air traffic in India.

More constraints on domestic aviation involve an increase in price of aviation fuel and Air India’s divestment plans, which could put the airline’s new partner/owner under financial duress until it completes integration, limiting its fleet procurement.

Meanwhile, Mumbai’s planned second airport remains mired in controversy over land acquisition and environmental concerns. Plans call for developers to cut into a hill and divert the course of the Ullwe River before crews can begin construction.

“Slots are a big issue at Mumbai as there is no space to expand,” Vishok Mansingh, CEO of Mumbai-based consultancy CAV Aero Services, told AIN. As a result, Jet Airways and Air India have already upgauged from narrowbody aircraft to widebodies on the Mumbai-Delhi route. “Once IndiGo gets its 20 [Airbus] A321neos with 60 more seats [than its A320s carry], I see them running on the Delhi-Mumbai route,” he added.

The government’s recently introduced subsidized Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), which encourages airlines to connect metropolitan airports to second- and third-tier cities, has created further limitations on airport space. Incidentally, the last 10 slots at Mumbai went to budget carrier SpiceJet for its Bombardier Q400s flying under the RCS.

Delhi International Airport (DIAL), which has handled 57.7 million passengers in the past 12 months, also suffers from space restraints following budget carrier growth, changes in airline fleet mixes and an increase in transit traffic and belly hold cargo. “Keeping in view the unprecedented growth at Delhi Airport and future infrastructure requirements, a revised Master Plan 2016 has been developed,” said DIAL CEO Prabhakara Rao. Plans include a fourth runway by 2021 and merging domestic budget terminal infrastructure into a single building. Meanwhile, even as DIAL starts its upgrade early next year, Rao cautioned the coming year would see no growth until the new structure is ready to handle 40 million passengers compared with the present 24 million.

“India suffers from the classic chicken-and-egg syndrome,” said Mansingh. “Unlike China, we add passenger capacity first and then build infrastructure to cope with the volumes,” said Mansingh.

Kapil Kaul, CEO for India and the Middle East for the Center for Asia-Pacific Aviation (CAPA) think tank, warned that the expansion will place immense pressure on the aviation system and likely result in fare increases.  

Mansingh noted that midsize airports have begun opening night parking bays, lessening the likelihood that airlines would defer deliveries as a result of the capacity crunch. “While it is inconvenient for airlines to park their fleet at a base not in their plan, they are now offering low fares to connect to metros for early very morning flights instead of flying an empty sector,” he said.