Choking airports leading to more fuel wastes and delays

Yogita Thorat
Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Lack of planning over the last 20 years by the Indian government and no execution of new expansion projects at airports has badly affected airlines and passengers in the last few years and will hit even in a worse manner in the coming years. Most Indian airports in metro cities now see a capacity utilisation at almost 100 per cent level and some even experience it beyond that level.  

Lack of planning over the last 20 years by the Indian government and no execution of new expansion projects at airports has badly affected airlines and passengers in the last few years and will hit even in a worse manner in the coming years. Most Indian airports in metro cities now see a capacity utilisation at almost 100 per cent level and some even experience it beyond that level.  

Mumbai airport handles over 700 landings and takeoffs every day. This means even some slightest error by some airline staff or crew can affect all other flight schedules because there is no margin or room for any adjustment. At Mumbai’s main runway 27-09, if one aircraft hit a snag for some reason, it means dozens of incoming aircraft have to hold over the airport and go circling for sometimes up to an hour. This results in additional fuel burn which costs the airline thousands of dollars. These delays and holdups are now almost a daily feature. At some time of the day, especially evening or early morning peak time, one experiences this.   

Airlines are now experiencing delays for reasons beyond their control. Weather related delay is understandable but a long delay merely because there is congestion at the airport is becoming a norm and On Time Performance (OTP) which is one of the parameters of judging the airline’s performance is getting badly hit.

Vistara, the airline which in the past clocked highest OTP, now reports that flights on its network are getting delayed many times due to congestion at Delhi or Mumbai airports. For SpiceJet, which clocked the best OTP from many airports last year, now says almost 30 per cent flights are delayed.

Almost 2.4 lakh domestic air passengers had to be compensated by various airlines last month on account of flight delays beyond two hours, which is more than double the number of people who had to be similarly compensated during January of last year. This means close to 8,000 people had to contend with delays beyond two hours every single day of January. The government has ambitious plans to open 50 unused airports by 2020 and has also given approval for 18 greenfield airports, the problem remains unresolved due to traffic growth emanating from large cities. According to the government’s own estimates, we need to triple airport capacity within 15 years at a cost of up to Rs 3 lakh crore.
According to DGCA data, Air India did not get even one in two flights on time at Mumbai last month, clocking in OTP of just 49.8 per cent. Its overall OTP across the four airports was only marginally better, at 56.8 per cent. Market leader IndiGo managed to get only 71.2 per cent of its flights on time across all four airports while the Jet Airways-Jetlite combine was just shy of the 60 per cent mark.

The aviation sector growth in India is phenomenal. Last year saw all scheduled national airlines clock over 80 per cent occupancy with Air India clocking in the least at 81.1 per cent among scheduled national carriers.

The government’s Udan scheme of connecting smaller airports with metro cities and using ATR services to connect towns like Shimla, Nanded and Shirdi is a welcome step. However, the congestion crisis is mainly going to hit the large cities in the coming months and years. So now, the priority has to be to build infrastructure (new airports, new runways) in these towns so that the challenges can be met.

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