Staggering figures from the Indian Aviation Industry, but can Airports Handle this Rise?


India’s aviation industry is in need of some fast-moving and efficient solutions to tackle their growing airport capacity problems.  The region has seen exponential growth over recent decades, with the volume of passenger traffic trebling in the last ten years. In fact, the increase in passenger traffic between 2001 and 2011 was three times the growth that had been achieved in the previous 50 years. A similar increase is predicted over the next decade.

Most airports in India are coming within reach of their existing capacities, if they haven’t already, and the country urgently needs new facilities and airports to ensure that the network can keep up with demand. But why has India got such a constrained network of airports? And what can be done to ensure that capacity is not an issue?

The rise in demand

This fantastic rise in passenger numbers and traffic is not unique to India. The Chinese aviation industry has also seen a similar increase, leading to, for example, an almost 50 million increase in passenger traffic from 2008 to 2015. As countries and continents with a vast population, spread over a large area, start to take advantage of air travel more regularly, the national airport infrastructure, particularly if it is held in government ownership, can struggle to keep pace.

In India, annual passengers numbers have grown from 69 million in 2004-005 to 188 million in 2014-15. According to research from Centre for Aviation (CAPA), there is expected to be an 8-10% increase in international traffic and 15% in domestic traffic in 2016 alone, and the scheduled Indian airline fleet is expected to grow from 430 to 1,030 aircraft by 2020-2021. Staggering figures, but can airports handle this rise?

A saturated and constrained network

While passenger numbers and aircraft are on a meteoric rise, the actual capacity at Indian airports is not increasing. The management and ownership of the airports across India, apart from five privately owned airports, is held by the Indian Government, who are putting their faith in the new Civil Aviation Policy to start to solve the differences between supply and demand.  The national airport operator, Airports Authority of India (AAI), has opened a new airport in Kadapa and several new terminals recently, and planned more terminal expansion works, additional runways and improvements; however many more projects including the privatization of some airports such as Kolkata and Chennai have been delayed or cancelled.

The CAPA report found that India needs to plan for massive investment in airport development by 2025, including the construction of up to 50 greenfield airports. The government has been seen to be holding back from privatising more airports, which would undoubtably lighten the load. Prior to the privatization of five airports in India, 85% of aviation traffic was concentered at Mumbai and Delhi airports. Now, this is 35-40%, a much more distribution with the rest of the airports in the country.

While there seems to be a hesitation from the government regarding new airports or privatization, the increase in passenger numbers continues. Whether the solution to this, for now, is better or more efficient use of existing capacity in airports; there is a real need for change to occur within the constrained and saturated Indian aviation industry.