Mumbai Summit Highlights India’s Challenges, Potential

 - January 17, 2019, 2:10 PM

As aviation infrastructure development lags behind India’s highly competitive and rapidly growing aviation market, the industry is getting a positive response from the international community looking for opportunities to invest in ground, air, and space infrastructure.

Such feedback proved particularly evident at the first Global Aviation Summit in Mumbai on January 15 and 16, attended by a mix of more than 1,200 participants from 80 countries, including the chiefs of the International Air Transport Association, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and Airports Council International.

“In order for India cope with surging demand in air transport, a clear plan for building critical aviation infrastructure is required,” said Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International (ACI) World. “With that in mind, it is good to see that the Indian government has moved to undertake a second phase of privatization.”

Gittens’ call for action reflects the urgency for reform intimated in the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s Vision 2040 report, which projects air traffic in India to rise nearly six-fold, from 187 million in 2018 to 1.124 billion in 2040. In the background of the unprecedented growth of aviation, the report highlights the potential of various industry initiatives to speed infrastructure development in India. 

Meanwhile, ACI expects India to rank as second fastest growing air transport market in the world from 2017 to 2040, during which time a 6.8 percent annual growth rate will equate to another 50 million passengers per year.

“Vision 2040 is a good way to align key stakeholders in the industry,” said International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Alexandre de Juniac at a closed door press gathering at the end of the summit.

If the present traffic growth continues, India’s commercial carriers will likely see their combined fleet to expand from 622 in March 2018 to 2,359 by March 2040. The report, however, acknowledges that meeting the targets will require “the right policies and a relentless focus on execution.” The document calls for global support on major sectors including airport development, air navigation system upgrades, and skills development.

The document also mentions decade-old calls to convert the present government-stifled Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to a fully independent Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) with “its own sources of funding and freedom to recruit professionals at market-linked salaries.”

The report expects India to have some 190 to 200 operational airports by 2040, requiring a capital investment of between $40 billion and $50 billion. “The top 31 cities may have two airports and the cities of Delhi and Mumbai three each,” it said. However, a paucity of available land—some 150,000 acres—could prove an impediment, said Secretary of India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation RN Choubey. He added that technology initiatives planned for present airport capacity augmentation such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, facial recognition, and a seamless service for passengers would bring radical changes to congested airports.

“India is on a good trajectory,” Gittens told AIN. “With six airports coming up in the next few months, it doesn’t take much for a country this size.”

Slot constraints at India’s busiest airports in Mumbai and Delhi have restricted airline growth. Presently, metro airports offer slots that favor established airlines over newer ones. While IATA’s World Slot Guidelines have demonstrated its efficiency for years, de Juniac told AIN that IATA, with help from ACI World, would soon introduce a revived set of slot guidelines.