From around 75 airports in India connected by scheduled flights, the National Democratic Alliance government, under its flagship UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) regional connectivity scheme, has plans to add 80 more airports and strips to India’s civil aviation map. With two consecutive years of 20 per cent-plus growth in air passenger traffic, India is moving towards becoming one of the largest aviation markets in the world. All of these have sprouted from the much-delayed National Civil Aviation Policy, which was released in June 2016, nearly two decades after it was first conceived. However, with the rapid growth, factors such as capacity constraints at the biggest airports in the country, including crucial ones such as Mumbai, and the resultant deterioration in experience of passengers with major airlines have stymied the government’s track record in the sector.
* In its manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata Party had said it would “modernise existing and operational airports, and build new ones especially connecting smaller towns and all tourism circuits”. Through the UDAN scheme, it has managed to add a number of smaller airports such as Shirdi in Maharashtra, Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh and Pakyong in Sikkim, among various others, to India’s aviation circuit.
* Fulfilling one of its earliest promises, the civil aviation ministry has issued the draft charter of passenger rights detailing what the flyers are entitled to in case of flight delays, cancellations, loss of baggage, etc.
* Improvisation of the processes and financials of flag carrier Air India was one of the focus areas of the government and the airline has reported operating profit of Rs 215 crore and Rs 105 crore for 2016-17 and 2015-16, respectively, against operating losses of Rs 2,636.19 crore and Rs 3,977.89 crore in 2014-15 and 2013-14, respectively. While this may be partially attributable to low oil prices, Air India has also introduced measures such as fleet replacement to introduce newer fuel-efficient aircraft to rationalise its operations.
* To enhance security at airports, especially the smaller ones across the country, the Central Industrial Security Force has been made the integrated unified command for security of airports. This was done in January 2017 after a proposal to have a dedicated Civil Aviation Security Force was struck down.
What’s in progress
* Strategic disinvestment of Air India was kick-started in June last year and the Centre came out with a preliminary document seeking bids from parties interested in acquiring 76 per cent stake in the airline. The idea of disinvesting government’s stake in the airline is an issue that has been discussed for the last one decade. However, even after the government has firmed up the plans for disinvestment, certain issues such as disposal of assets and the debt of the company are proving to be obstacles in attracting buyers for the airline.
* The long-pending expansion of airport capacity in Mumbai and the National Capital Region began with the government clearing greenfield airports at Jewar in Uttar Pradesh and in Navi Mumbai. While timelines have been laid out for both these airports that will mitigate the strain on heavily loaded Delhi and Mumbai airports, land acquisition issues are being ironed out before construction can begin.
* The BJP, in its manifesto, said that air cargo facilities would be enhanced throughout the country. While early on after the government took charge, 24 airports were identified for development air cargo terminals. However, common user domestic air cargo terminals have been created at 11 airports so far out of the 24 identified.
* The country’s policy on drones has been stuck in the corridors of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for almost past four years and the government started expediting the process only after a drone spotted near Delhi airport caused the runways of the aerodrome being shut down as a precautionary measure.
* The growth in air passenger traffic is partially attributed to low oil prices over the past two to three years but experts have pointed out that once the oil prices start rising, it would necessitate the government to bring aviation turbine fuel under the goods and services tax regime to support the over 20 per cent growth level the industry has witnessed in the recent years.