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As Covid-19 turbulence eases, three airlines in race for domestic No. 2 spot

Low-cost carrier IndiGo stays at the top with more than half the domestic market share, but there are three contenders — Air India, SpiceJet and GoFirst — for the second spot.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: April 23, 2022 12:29:14 pm
Covid-19, Covid pandemic, aviation sector, Indian aviation sector, Indigo, Air India, SpiceJet, GoFirst, Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsIndiGo is the clear leader in the domestic market. File

Domestic air traffic is recovering from the Covid blow, having edged past the pre-pandemic daily passenger count of 4 lakh, and the aviation market is now seeing a fresh dose of competition with a pitched battle for the second spot.

Low-cost carrier IndiGo stays at the top with more than half the domestic market share, but there are three contenders — Air India, SpiceJet and GoFirst — for the second spot.

According to monthly traffic data published by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for March, GoFirst became the third airline this year to occupy the No.2 rank in terms of passenger market share after Air India and SpiceJet had dominated the spot.

In March, IndiGo’s market share was 54.8 per cent, followed by GoFirst (9.8 per cent), SpiceJet (9.5 per cent), Vistara (8.9 per cent) and Air India (8.8 per cent). In February, the second spot was claimed by Air India (11.1 per cent) followed by SpiceJet (10.7 per cent), Vistara (9.7 per cent) and GoFirst (9.5 per cent).

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Prior to the pandemic, SpiceJet had occupied the second spot after the grounding of Jet Airways, which had a clear claim as the country’s second largest domestic airline in terms of passengers carried.

In May 2019, the first full month of operations after the Jet grounding, Air India had a market share of 13.4 per cent, followed by SpiceJet (14.8 per cent) and the erstwhile GoAir (11.1 per cent). During that month, IndiGo’s market share was at 49 per cent, as it gained significantly from Jet’s collapse.

In December 2019, second-ranked SpiceJet’s market share stood at 16.5 per cent, and Air India’s at 11.9 per cent.

“Market share is also a function of capacity deployed. SpiceJet was clear number two for a while, then they shrunk, which gave others the opportunity to be there. The capacity deployed is such that Air India, GoFirst and SpiceJet are close to each other. With a few thousand passengers here and there, the number two airline shifts,” said Ameya Joshi of aviation analysis portal NetworkThoughts.


Fleet boost holds key

Fleet expansion is expected to be key to market share plans of airlines. The competition will depend on how quickly and efficiently carriers are able to get in new planes and deploy them on growing routes.

One of the reasons for SpiceJet reducing capacity, in addition to the airline’s precarious financial situation, was the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The Ajay Singh-promoted airline had planned the induction of 737 MAX aircraft to add to and replace its existing fleet of the older generation 737 planes. However, the MAX was grounded globally after two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. In India, the ban was lifted on the plane in August 2021.

Similarly, for Air India, following the Government’s decision in 2017 to disinvestment its stake in the airline, fleet expansion plans went on the back-burner.

IndiGo and GoFirst were, meanwhile, expanding their fleet. As per the latest figures available, IndiGo has 276 aircraft in its fleet, while Air India has 79 narrow-bodied planes and 49 wide-bodied, only few of which are deployed on domestic routes. SpiceJet has a fleet of 91 planes, including Boeing 737s and Bombardier Q-400s, and GoFirst 57 narrow-bodied Airbus A320 planes.

Analysts say the competition for No.2 is expected to intensify. With Tata Group taking control of Air India, the airline is expected to undertake a fleet expansion programme. Also, with at least one new national airline coming up next year, the spot could see more competition.

“It could be a breakout. If Air India gets additional planes airworthy and deploy, they will just go and grab that position. Likewise, if SpiceJet inducts more MAX panes, they will, and same for GoFirst,” Joshi said.

Full-service airline Vistara, which is partly owned by Tata Group, has also been taking delivery of new narrow-bodied planes, adding to its fleet. The airline is tied to the third spot, with its sister airline AirAsia India, also owned by Tata Group, having fallen behind. In March, AirAsia India had a market share of 6.5 per cent.

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