India’s domestic air passenger traffic recorded single digit growth in 2019 for the first time in five years at a meagre 3.74 per cent rise over 2018, mainly due to operations of one of the country’s largest airline’s Jet Airways coming to a grinding halt, official data released by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) showed.
Even as airlines continued to induct aircraft following Jet’s grounding in April last, seat capacity deployed on some of the largest routes including Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Bengaluru, Delhi-Chennai and Mumbai-Chennai remained lower in 2019 than they were four years ago, according to data sourced by The Indian Express from aviation intelligence firm OAG.
In 2018, passenger traffic growth was recorded at 18.60 per cent over the previous year, while in 2017 passenger traffic grew at 17.31 per cent. “(The latest air traffic data is) a bit disappointing. In 2019, we faced headwinds on account of Jet Airways but 2020 is going to be different and the double-digit growth should be back sooner rather than later,” a senior DGCA official said.
In terms of capacity, seats deployed on Delhi-Mumbai route – the largest one in the country – in both directions was 82.31 lakh in 2019, compared with 83.90 lakh in 2016. Similarly, the second largest route of Delhi-Bengaluru had 48.99 lakh seats deployed last year, against 49.83 lakh in 2016. The Delhi-Chennai route had 28.70 lakh seats deployed in 2019, compared with 30.05 lakh seats in 2016, while the Mumbai-Chennai route had 26.22 lakh seats in 2019, slightly less than 26.35 lakh seats in 2016, OAG data showed. In 2018, these routes had 85.69 lakh seats, 50.81 lakh seats, 32.79 lakh seats and 27.09 lakh seats, respectively.
A former aviation industry executive said that such routes where no growth was witnessed were stronghold routes of Jet Airways and that the dip was temporary in nature.
Following Jet’s collapse, the government redistributed a majority of the airline’s slots to other carriers on the condition that they inducted additional aircraft to use those slots. This led to airlines such as Vistara and SpiceJet to induct some Boeing 737 aircraft previously flown by Jet Airways as a contingency measure to win the slots. For Vistara, it also meant introducing a new aircraft type to its fleet.
IndiGo maintained its lead position with 47.5 per cent share of the domestic passenger market in December 2019, DGCA data showed. SpiceJet’s market share increased from 16.1 per cent in November to 16.5 per cent in December, giving it the number two spot, as per the data. The market share of Air India, GoAir, AirAsia India and Vistara was 11.9 per cent, 10.2 per cent, 7 per cent and 6.1 per cent, respectively, last month.
“Looking forward, I cannot see any reasons for growth to slow down in the next five years; the market is strong, consumer confidence high and with few realistic alternate forms of transport for many routes there is nothing but optimism for Indian aviation. Of course issues with Air India need to be addressed but they are no longer fundamental to the domestic and indeed international markets,” said Mayur (Mac) Patel, Head of Japan-Asia Pacific region for OAG.
A senior government official also pointed to a decline in deployment of seat capacity on prime routes in 2019 to airlines deploying aircraft on smaller routes connecting two tier-II or tier-III towns, where the carriers have a higher ability to command fares. “On large routes like Delhi-Mumbai, there is a lot of competition and fares are already low, so airlines don’t have a lot of room to offer fares that are sustainable to their profitability,” the official said, adding that the main impact of Jet’s collapse on many high volume routes was that a sudden fall in capacity led to an uptick in fares that potentially hurt the passenger traffic growth.
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