Thursday, February 29, 2024
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The venomous snakes near Mumbai’s new airport are just a minor inconvenience compared to the immense challenges already overcome at the construction site. With 8,000 workers toiling around the clock, the airport project involves blasting away 55 million cubic meters of rock, diverting a river, and relocating entire villages. Set to be completed by late 2024, the pace of this project is remarkable on a global scale and unprecedented in India.

India’s aviation industry is experiencing remarkable growth, marked by the opening of four new airports and four terminals in the past year alone. The country now boasts 149 operational civil airports, twice the number it had a decade ago. With plans for nine additional airports in the pipeline and a vision of 15 dual-airport cities by 2040, India’s aviation landscape is undergoing a transformative expansion. Even a possible third airport for Mumbai is under discussion.

The surge in domestic passenger numbers from 98 million in 2012-13 to 202 million in 2019-20 has positioned India as the third-largest domestic aviation market globally. Projections indicate that it will claim the third-largest spot overall by 2026, with expectations of over 500 million passengers by 2030. Airbus foresees the domestic market expanding to more than five times its 2019 size by 2042. The government aims to establish aviation hubs comparable to those in Dubai.

These new airports are part of the broader infrastructure drive led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The ambitious growth in aviation is expected to support India’s annual growth rate of over 6%. Additionally, enhanced aviation connectivity has the potential to boost overall economic growth, as noted in a Transport Reviews journal paper. In a vast country with uneven road and rail links, the presence of airports is considered a catalyst for economic development.

India’s aviation history has reflected the nation’s economic trajectory. J.R.D. Tata founded the industry, and after nationalization in 1953, it became emblematic of the inefficiencies of a mixed economy. The liberalization in the 1990s led to a boom in private airlines, followed by a bust, with major carriers like Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways facing financial troubles. However, the current aviation boom appears more sustainable.

While the industry still contends with challenges like punctuality issues, regulatory violations, safety concerns, and a pilot shortage, its expansion seems resilient. Government support plays a crucial role, with the Modi administration privatizing older airports, restructuring Air India, and promoting a state-subsidized regional connectivity scheme. The government’s proactive approach recognizes aviation as a crucial mode of travel, contributing to the sector’s sustainability.

The second reason for optimism is the surging demand for air travel. With discretionary spending on the rise, per capita income increasing, and the potential for dramatic growth, the aviation industry is set to thrive. Air travel’s competitiveness with long-distance rail, coupled with the relatively low percentage of Indians who have flown, indicates substantial growth potential. Airbus predicts a threefold increase in Indian air travel by 2031.

Major players in the industry, such as Air India and Indigo, are capitalizing on this growth potential with substantial aircraft orders and ambitious expansion plans. Indigo’s recent order of 500 new planes, the largest in history, and the emergence of new players like Akasa reflect confidence in the industry’s future. The airlines’ expansion into international routes and the government’s vision for international hubs signals a new era for India’s aviation sector.

In conclusion, India’s aviation industry is witnessing unprecedented growth, driven by robust government support, increasing demand, and ambitious plans by major players. The construction of new airports, coupled with strategic reforms, positions India as a key player in the global aviation landscape. As the country aims to compete with international aviation giants, the trajectory suggests a sustainable and prosperous future for India’s aviation sector.

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