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Hit by high aviation fuel prices and a meltdown in the financial sector, domestic air traffic in India has plummeted to a five-year low — traffic declined by a whopping 19% in September 2008. This is the fourth consecutive month of negative growth in air traffic since June. Airline companies, which have been feeling the pinch, are now resorting to large-scale downsizing to cut costs. Almost all domestic carriers saw their load factor sharply declining during September this year.

Faced with further uncertainties, airline companies are rationalising routes, surrendering aircraft and cutting costs. The recent layoff plans by Jet Airways and Kingfisher, and Air India’s plan to offer its staff voluntary leave schemes, only highlights the extremity of the situation. According to industry sources, Kingfisher Red (formerly Air Deccan) saw the sharpest fall of around 20% in its load factor in September. Air India’s seat factor declined by 10% to 53% during the same period. “The average load factor of airlines came down to 55% in September this year, as against over 65% during the same month last year,” a source said.

The domestic carriers carried about 2.6 million passengers during September 2008 as against close to 3.3 million passengers in the corresponding period last year. The sharp month-on-month fall in air traffic is forcing airlines to reduce capacity and trim manpower. The domestic carriers, which have cut down over 20% of their capacity, are weighing the option to cut more. The average flight movement has come down to less than 8,000 per week now from a peak of around 10,500 during the April-June period.

Industry experts maintain that the current round of crisis in the domestic aviation sector is severe, but may not continue for long. “The current downturn in the sector is temporary and may not prolong for more than 6 to 9 months,” Boeing vice-president (sales) Dinesh Keskar said. In a bid to tide over the crisis, two of India’s largest private airlines — Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines — have decided to form an alliance for cross-selling of seats, common ground handling and code-sharing. The sector is expected to post a cumulative loss of over $2 billion in the current financial year. Jet Airways, however, managed to maintain a 64% seat factor during this period, higher than the industry average of nearly 55%.

Indian Airports

There are 449 airports/airstrips in the country. Among these, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) owns and manages 5 international airports, 87 domestic airports and 28 civil enclaves at Defence airfields and provides air traffic services over the entire Indian airspace and adjoining oceanic areas.

In 1998-99, these 120 airports/civil enclaves handled 4.20 lakh aircraft movements involving 24.17 million domestic and 12.83 million international passengers and 221 thousand metric tones of domestic cargo and 468 thousand metric tones of international cargo. 51 percent of traffic was handled at the international airports at Mumbai and Delhi. Presently various airlines are operating only through 61 airports. The remaining are lying unutilised at best handling occasional aircraft operations.

There are five designated international airports at Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras) and Thiruvanathapuram (Trivandrum). A sixth airport with an international status has recently been designated at Kochi (Cochin). Of the more than 100 other airports spread all over the country, 26 operate limited international flights. These are Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calicut, Coimbatore, Thiruchirapalli, Visakhapatnam, Port Blair, Goa, Pune, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Patna, Lucknow, Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, Indore, Srinagar, Guwahati, Gaya, Bhubaneshar, Bareilly, Kanpur, Bagdogra and Imphal.

Most airports, except Cochin are owned by the government and managed by the Airport Authority of India and some by the Defence services. Cochin is the first joint venture between Kerala state and private enterprises, largely people of Indian origin living abroad. Work on two more large and state-of-the-art international airports, at Bangalore and Hyderabad, also with private sector participation, is in hand. A similar project has also been approved for Goa. Recently, the government sanctioned massive funds for modernizing the major international airports whose management is proposed to be turned over to the private sector. Delhi and Mumbai are first in this list and work on renovation and expansion is expected to begin early in 2004. Between them the two entry-ports receive the bulk of overseas traffic.

The Delhi Airport, formally known as Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA ) has two terminals, one for domestic and the other for overseas visitors. Mumbai, which has since been renamed as Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, also has a separate domestic terminal. Among the two score foreign carriers operating through Delhi and Mumbai (as well as other airports) are British Airways, Lufthansa, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, Emirates, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern Airline, Air France, Swiss Air, Malaysian Airline, KLM, Aeroflot, Uzbek, AirLanka, Singapore Airline, Royal Nepal, Royal Jordanian, El Al, and the national carriers Air India and Indian Airlines.

In Chennai, the domestic facility is named Kamaraj Domestic Terminal and the other as Anna International. Kolkata too has two terminals, domestic and international. All international airports have standard passenger facilities and amenities like trolleys, postal and telephone booths, information counters, taxi and car rental, hotel bookings, restaurants and lounges.

Domestic air travel is serviced by the government-owned Indian Airlines which has the largest network serving all parts of India while two private operators, Jet Airways and Air Sahara also offer flights to big cities and tourist centers. Jagson Air serves a few feeder routes. Deccan Airlines- 'a non frill budget carrier' has started operations. More budget airlines are expected to start operation in 2005.

Air India- the national carrier- carries domestic travelers between metro cities from where it operates international flights. Indian Airlines also flies to a few international destinations in the neighbouring countries as well as to the Gulf, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Helicopter services are also available.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation is responsible for the formulation of national policies and programs for development and regulation of civil aviation and for devising and implementing schemes for ordxerly growth and expansion of Civil Air Transport.Its functions also extend to overseeing the provision of airport facilities, air traffic services and carriage of passengers and goods by air.

It has under its administrative purview the following organisations:

Attached/ Subordinate Organisation
- Director General of Civil Aviation
- Bureau of Civil Aviation Security
- Commission of Railway Safety

Autonomous Body
- Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Avcademy

Air Carriers
- Air India Limited
- Indian Airlines Limited/ Alliance Air
- Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited

Statutory Body
- Airports Authority of India

Hotel Corporation of India (A subsidiary of Air India)

Air Traffic

Historically, air traffic at Indian airports has broadly followed a particular distribution pattern, except that some airports have changed their inter-se position vis-a-vis volume of traffic. The airport-wise percentage share of total passenger and cargo traffic in the descending order of magnitude is as under:-

SHARES OF AIRCRAFT MOVEMENT TRAFFIC DURING 1998-99 AT TOP 45 AIRPORTS

S. NO.

AIRPORTS

AIRCRAFT MOVEMENTS ( IN NUMBERS )

   

INT'L

% SHARE

DOM

% SHARE

TOTAL

% SHARE

1

Mumbai

33095

33.24

66088

20.33

99183

23.35

2

Delhi

30007

30.14

44662

13.74

74669

17.58

3

Chennai

11170

11.22

20653

6.35

31823

7.49

4

Calcutta

6735

6.76

17646

5.43

24381

5.74

5

Bangalore

2818

2.83

25066

7.71

27884

6.57

Total of 05 Airports

83825

84.19

174115

53.55

257940

60.73

6

Hyderabad

2049

2.06

12700

3.91

14749

3.47

7

Thiruvananthapuram

6438

6.47

2628

0.81

9066

2.13

8

Ahmedabad

874

0.88

9956

3.06

10830

2.55

9

Goa

1083

1.09

5689

1.75

6772

1.59

10

Calicut

3066

3.08

3404

1.05

6470

1.52

Total of 10 Airports

97335

97.76

208492

64.12

305827

72.01

11

Cochin  

0.00

5651

1.74

5651

1.33

12

Guwahati  

0.00

6188

1.90

6188

1.46

13

Pune  

0.00

5924

1.82

5924

1.39

14

Jammu  

0.00

3542

1.09

3542

0.83

15

Jaipur  

0.00

5878

1.81

5878

1.38

Total of 15 Airports

97335

97.76

235675

72.49

333010

78.41

16

Coimbatore

282

0.28

4055

1.25

4337

1.02

17

Vadodara  

0.00

4571

1.41

4571

1.08

18

Varanasi

552

0.55

2196

0.68

2748

0.65

19

Nagpur

2

0.00

3991

1.23

3993

0.94

20

Mangalore  

0.00

3009

0.93

3009

0.71

Total of 20 Airports

98171

98.60

253497

77.97

351668

82.80

21

Lucknow

18

0.02

4012

1.23

4030

0.95

22

Srinagar  

0.00

2362

0.73

2362

0.56

23

Agartala  

0.00

1476

0.45

1476

0.35

24

Indore  

0.00

2593

0.80

2593

0.61

25

Bhubaneswar  

0.00

2380

0.73

2380

0.56

Total of 25 Airports

98189

98.62

266320

81.91

364509

85.83

 

26

Patna

220

0.22

2205

0.68

2425

0.57

27

Udaipur

4

0.00

2003

0.62

2007

0.47

28

Juhu  

0.00

14762

4.54

14762

3.48

29

Visakhapatnam  

0.00

2048

0.63

2048

0.48

30

Bagdogra

38

0.04

1915

0.59

1953

0.46

Total of 30 Airports

98451

98.88

289253

88.96

387704

91.29

31

Rajkot  

0.00

1954

0.60

1954

0.46

32

Imphal  

0.00

1030

0.32

1030

0.24

33

Aurangabad  

0.00

2314

0.71

2314

0.54

34

Leh  

0.00

1070

0.33

1070

0.25

35

Madurai  

0.00

1486

0.46

1486

0.35

Total of 35 Airports

98451

98.88

297107

91.38

395558

93.14

36

Trichy

618

0.62

688

0.21

1306

0.31

37

Silchar  

0.00

936

0.29

936

0.22

38

Port Blair  

0.00

938

0.29

938

0.22

39

Bhopal  

0.00

1532

0.47

1532

0.36

40

Jamnagar  

0.00

2328

0.72

2328

0.55

Total of 40 Airports

99069

99.50

303529

93.35

402598

94.80

41

Khajuraho  

0.00

1580

0.49

1580

0.37

42

Dibrugarh  

0.00

1666

0.51

1666

0.39

43

Bhavnagar  

0.00

1742

0.54

1742

0.41

44

Bhuj  

0.00

1209

0.37

1209

0.28

45

Agra

24

0.02

1193

0.37

1217

0.29

Total of 45 Airports

99093

99.53

310919

95.55

410012

96.48

46

Amritsar

465

0.47

801

0.25

1266

0.30

Others(Dom Apts.)*

5

0.01

13672

4.21

13677

3.22

TOTAL

99563

100.00

325392

100.00

424955

100.00

Source: Ministry of Civil Aviation, Airports Authority of India

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