Indian Aviation Heading Towards a Paradigm Shift?

By Ankur Deo | June 19, 2020

Aviation in India might have resumed just a month ago, but this time has been enough to bring into limelight some important aspects related to the future of the country’s air industry. A majority of India’s domestic market is dominated by narrow body aircraft, namely, the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, and their respective variants; Air India and Vistara are the only two airlines which operate wide-body aircraft. However, lately, many airlines have been seeking the option to start operating wide-body aircraft for domestic and international routes.  

Recently, SpiceJet’s CMD, Mr. Ajay Singh stated:

‘Indian carriers need to look at a wide-body option now. But it has to be supported strongly by government policy. If you are going to allow the network carriers, people who are in the Gulf and in the Far East to just keep billions of dollars from their government and keep undercutting us, then it is very difficult to do (operate wide body aircraft).’ 

Air India has the largest wide-body fleet in India ©Wiki Commons

During the pre-pandemic years, a substantial chunk of India’s international traffic was operated by foreign carriers – most significantly, the Gulf carriers like Emirates and Etihad Airlines. More than 80 percent of all operations to and from the Middle East and Europe were operated by the non-Indian airlines. Most of these carriers have an extremely strong fleet of a variety of wide-body aircraft, which allow the airlines to operate the necessary long haul flights with moderate passenger loads. The narrow body aircraft, which are most dominant in India’s skies, are only good for short or medium haul routes.

Mr. Ajay Singh further stated in a webinar titled ‘Reposing the Faith in Flying’ that:

‘We need to decide that as Indians we need to take our passengers directly from India to different parts of the world. It should be one policy. All of India should subscribe to it including the government and certainly we can do it. We must do it, it is our duty.’

Last year, a multitude of airlines in India, namely, SpiceJet, IndiGo and Vistara were in talk with manufacturers to include wide-body fleet in their fleet. While Vistara recently welcomed the Boeing 787-9 in their fleet, the other two have not yet seen any progress. IndiGo has been aggressive on purchasing the narrow body A320neo and A321neo aircraft, but has not yet seen any development on inclusion of any wide-body aircraft in its paraphernalia.  Airlines primarily blame two aspects:

  1. The COVID-19 situation
  2. Air Travel policies not being in favour to help Indian carriers ameliorate for long-haul international market

Vistara became the first Indian airline to operate the 787-9 ©Wiki Commons

As air travel gradually picks up in India, it is understandable that staying afloat will be the primary priority. However, just as Vistara did, this might be a good chance for airlines to rethink and re-strategise their fleet plans so as to grow and become internationally connected at the earliest.

India’s domestic industry is currently the third biggest in the world, and with a strong government backing and already present high demand for the international passenger travel, India’s airlines have a golden opportunity to ameliorate for long-haul operations. What are your thoughts on this? Is India’s market ready for this paradigm shift? Let us know in the comments!

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