The world is back on the skies and flying has returned to pre-pandemic levels after a hiatus of two years. Recovering post-pandemic, the civil aviation industry in India has emerged as one of the fastest-growing industries during the last three years.
A report by the Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) states that India is the third largest domestic aviation market in the world and is projected to overtake the UK to become the third largest air passenger market by 2024. A growing working class and expanding middle class are predicted to increase demand. According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), India is expected to overtake China and the United States as the world's third-largest air passenger market by 2030.
Indians travel all over the world. It is one of the fastest-growing outbound travel markets in the world. India’s high population boom, which is estimated to be 1.39 billion, poses advantages for airlines as it means more potential customers for both domestic and international routes. India leads Asia-Pacific in its intent to travel in the second half of 2022 with 50 per cent of Indians expressing the desire to spend more money on booking a vacation, reveals the world’s largest survey of travel intentions from Travel Lifestyle Network (TLN) in a post-pandemic setting.
REVITALISING THE UAE-INDIA ROUTE
Located almost two and a half hours away, the UAE-India enjoy the special status of being at the number two position in January 2021. Dubai, the most popular city in the UAE, has always attracted tourists because of its luxury shopping malls, flamboyant buildings, a plethora of amusement options and super luxury hotels. The Indian tourists especially have a special inclination and affinity towards Dubai. Most Indian travellers have Dubai on their bucket list. From the middle class to the highly affluent, we find all Indian tourists flocking to Dubai. Not just that, over 2.2 million Indian migrants live in the UAE, which forms 30 per cent of the total population, making it a popular choice for the Indian diaspora to visit their families and relatives. Therefore, the two countries share the busiest air route.
According to UK-based aviation data firm OAG, in March 2021 airlines were scheduled to fly close to 1.2 million seats between the UAE and India, which is indeed a massive number. India remained the biggest international travel source market for Dubai in 2021 with 9.1 lakh visitors from the country. Several mega events like the IPL, T20 World Cup and Expo 2020 Dubai had seen a large number of people travelling from India to the UAE, which has always been the biggest international destination for Indian travellers. Dubai Tourism reported that the city saw India delivering 910,000 visitors (5.3 per cent YoY) in 2021.
According to data assessed by PTI, in 2022 the busiest international route in India was Mumbai-Dubai with 406 flights and the second busiest international route was Delhi-Dubai with 332 flights. There were 167, 152, 136, 133 and 131 flights on the Cochin-Dubai, Hyderabad-Dubai, Chennai-Dubai, Bengaluru-Dubai and Calicut-Dubai routes. These seven routes to the city in the UAE were among the top 20 international air travel routes connecting India in May 2022.
LAUNCH OF THE NATIONAL CARRIER
Air India is one of the largest carriers in the world today. According to data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser, as of June 2022, Air India is the fifth largest player in India's domestic market with a 7.6 per cent capacity share of all departure seats. The airline’s international capacity has also recovered to about 82 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The humble story of Air India dates back to 1932, when Indian aviation kicked off with the introduction of the first airline, Tata Air Services.
The airline flew its inaugural flight in October 1932, flying from Karachi to Mumbai.
In 1947, following Indian independence, Tata Airways was renamed Air India, and the government took a 49 per cent stake in the airline. The airline began flying its first international flights in 1948, flying from Mumbai to London on a Lockheed Constellation (a four-engine airline built by Lockheed Corporation).
By the 1950s, India was home to several smaller airlines operating in different parts of the country. Some notable ones were Deccan Airways, based in Hyderabad, and Kalinga Airlines, based in Kolkata. Air India remained the national carrier, flying multiple domestic and international routes.
In 1953, the Indian government nationalised the aviation industry, taking control of all major airlines, resulting in the merger of eight major airlines into two airlines run by the government. These two airlines were Air India and Indian Airlines. After 68 years, Tata Sons subsidiary Talace Pvt Ltd emerged as the winning bidder for the debt-laden national carrier after quoting an enterprise value of Rs 18,000 crore. The high-profile sale was a boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who embarked on a bold privatisation plan to plug a widening budget deficit, validating his stance on the state staying away from most businesses.
THE ERA OF MODERN AVIATION
The 2000s marked the beginning of India's aviation boom. Full-service carriers such as Air India was challenged by a slew of low-cost airlines, such as IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir and AirAsia India drastically reduced fares, allowing millions more to fly and challenging the larger airlines. The beginning of the new century saw India’s aviation sector prosper, but legacy carriers like Indian Airlines and Air India were left behind with a small share of the pie, eventually resulting in Indian Airlines and Air India being merged in 2007. The merger was completed by February 26, 2011.
During the first decade of this century, not only were Indian skies opening up and new airlines taking wings, even infrastructure development had begun to get kick-started. The government realised that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) did not have the required bandwidth to modernise and upgrade some of the larger airports, especially in Delhi and Mumbai, without help from private parties. This on-again-off-again process resulted in concessions of the two airports being finally granted to private consortia in 2006. When it comes to big cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata, the airports boast of having world-class domestic as well as international terminals. Recently, at the Skytrax World Airport Awards in 2022, Delhi Airport won the award for best airport in South Asia and India for a fourth consecutive year. The Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi increased its overall position from 45th to 37th, making it the only airport in India to rank among the top 50 worldwide. Delhi Airport was also adjudged as the ‘Cleanest Airport in India and South Asia’.
In 2015, IndiGo went public, prompting a re-rating of the entire aviation sector and India cleared two safety hurdles — secured top safety ranking from the US safety regulator FAA after remaining in the doldrums for months and also passed the audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). As of 2022, IndiGo operates more than 1,500 daily flights to 99 destinations, 74 in India and 25 abroad.
Another pioneer of the regional connectivity scheme, SpiceJet is the country's largest regional player, helping connect the remotest parts of the country by air. The airline is currently in talks with a Middle Eastern carrier for a possible stake sale and also the talks are ongoing with a large Indian conglomerate, Indian news channel CNBC-TV-18 reported, citing sources. Spicejet's promoter, Ajay Singh who holds 60 per cent in the carrier is exploring a partial stake sale in the cash-strapped carrier. According to Times of India report, airline sources have said that the Middle Eastern carrier with which Singh is in talks is interested in a 24 per cent stake and a seat on the Spice Jet board. Reports also suggest that a big Indian business conglomerate has approached Singh for a stake in the airline.
NEW HEIGHTS FOR MODERN FLIGHTS
To make air travel affordable and widespread across India, the Government of India has launched the ‘Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik’ scheme also known as UDAN Scheme. Through this scheme, various measures are taken to boost air travel. In a statement, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Civil Aviation Minister, said that under the UDAN scheme, 1.94 lakh flights were operated in the last six years in which over one crore passengers travelled. Under this regional air connectivity scheme, as many as 425 routes, 68 airports, heliports and water aerodromes are in operation.
Additionally, according to Scindia, the government has given the go-ahead for the construction of 21 Greenfield Airports, including those at Mopa, Goa; Shirdi, Sindhudurg, and Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra; Kalaburagi, Hassan, Bijapur, and Shimoga, Karnataka; Datia (Gwalior), MP; Noida, and Kushinagar, UP; Hirasar, Gujarat. The international airports approved are those at Navi Mumbai, Mopa, Shirdi, Noida (Jewar), Hirasar, Dholera, Kannur, Bhogapuram, and Kushinagar; the domestic airports are all the others. Eight of these 21 airports — Pakyong, Durgapur, Sindhudurg, Shirdi, Kannur, Oravakal, Kalaburagi, and Kushinagar — have already reached operational status.
PROMOTING MEDICAL TOURISM
The Government of India will soon introduce a special visa for foreigners arriving in India for treatment under Ayush methods — Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, among others.
Addressing the Global Ayush Investment and Innovation Summit 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made this announcement to further push medical tourism in the country, with a special focus on treatments under traditional medical systems. He said: "The way traditional medicines have boosted tourism in Kerala, we see similar capabilities in every corner of the country. Heal-in-India can become a big brand this decade. The Government of India is taking an initiative, under which, if foreign national wants to take Ayush treatment in India, there will be a special Ayush Visa, making it convenient for them to visit India."
Dr. Behrad Elahi, MD Fellow of European Society of Cardiology and Interventional Cardiologist at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, talks about how raising awareness on health risks and taking steps to prevent diseases can go a long way in reducing heart-related morbidities