Monday, April 15, 2019

Jet Airways in tailspin, nosedive at IndiGo. New Delhi must stop India’s aviation sector crashing – or face election turbulence

When Bhaskar Dahbi booked a last-minute flight from the southern Indian city of Hyderabad to the western city of Ahmedabad to attend his uncle’s funeral, little did he know his 1,200km journey would be in vain.
The software developer, 27, arrived at the airport in good time to cover any eventualities and things appeared to be going his way. All around him, flights were being delayed, rescheduled or cancelled but at least the departures board suggested his own flight would be spared the chaos.
Until shortly before take-off, that is, when he heard that his flight, like so many others that day, would be delayed for hours.
“The airlines could have announced the delay at least three hours before. Flights were constantly being delayed from the morning. But instead, I was informed about the delay [so late] that I had no choice but to stay inside the aircraft,” Dahbi recalled. By the time he arrived in Ahmedabad, Dahbi had already missed the funeral.
Dahbi is among tens of thousands of Indians to have been hit by the delays, cancellations and rocketing prices that have plagued the country’s aviation sector in recent months. And on Friday, Jet Airways announced it would cancel all international flights from Saturday to Monday.
Until the second half of last year, India was the world’s fastest-growing aviation market, passenger numbers were up and the Ministry of Civil Aviation was confidently predicting it would hit 1.1 billion air travellers by 2040. Growth appeared guaranteed as it seemed inevitable that the aspiring middle class of Asia’s third-largest economy would slowly come around to considering air travel a viable mode of transport rather than a luxury.
But now the industry is in a nosedive, with hundreds of passengers like Dahbi losing money, time and business opportunities every day.
More than 120 of the 700-odd aircraft belonging to India’s domestic airlines are currently grounded, for a host of reasons ranging from unsustainable business models and financial problems to crew shortages. To put this in perspective, the number of grounded aircraft is now greater than the fleet of SpiceJet, the country’s fourth-largest operator.
Unforeseeable circumstances, like the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX planes after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight near Addis Ababa in March and the closure of Pakistani airspace after a terrorist attack on Indian security personnel in Kashmir, have exacerbated the situation.
From January to February this year, the number of passengers carried by domestic airlines dropped from 12.5 million to 11.3 million. Figures for last month have not been released yet, but are expected to be even worse.
14/04/19 Vasudevan Sridharan/South China Morning Post
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