Wednesday, May 20, 2020

No relief for aviation sector; Centre's projected savings of Rs 1,000 cr inflated

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday announced several measures to help the aviation sector tide over the coronavirus crisis. This included opening up more air space for civilians flying. The finance minister claimed that the move to open more air space for civilian flights will bring Rs 1,000 crore per year benefits for the aviation sector, facing unprecedented crisis amid lockdown to contain coronavirus pandemic.
As of today, only 50 percent of air space in India is free to use. The government argued that airline operators will save a significant amount of fuel on shorter routing options on Conditional Direct Routes (CDR) passing through military air space. However, experts contend that there is hardly any room left for further significant shortening of routes, but even if it's done by opening up more air space, there will be marginal effect in terms of savings for the airlines.
A similar measure was taken by the government in 2017 when 13 Conditional Direct Routes (CDR) were opened for airlines. But these routes were available for airlines depending on the timing and only when not used by the military - mostly one weekend and when the weather was not fit to fly for the military. Moreover, experts claimed that the additional fuel burn takes place due to traffic congestion and not primarily because of the longer routes.
"Maximum additional fuel burn takes place while holding over high-density air traffic destinations like Mumbai, Delhi & Hyderabad. Flights immediately North of Delhi are prohibited due to Rashtrapati Bhawan. Therefore all departures/arrivals have to take a longer route around Delhi when flying to/from airports in the North," Captain Amit Singh, Fellow, Royal Aeronautical Society, UK & Former Head Airline Operations, Safety, told International Business Times, India in a statement. 
The Rs 1,000 crore benefit that the Narendra Modi government is claiming also looks infeasible. According to a paper presented by India on Civil-Military Cooperation and Flexible use of airspace in the country at the 54th Conference of Directors General of Civil Aviation Asia and Pacific Regions, airlines saved approximately 115 tonnes of aviation fuel from 13 conditional direct routes. At today's fuel price of Rs 26,000/KL, the cost of 115 Tonnes will be approx INR 10 crore, which is nowhere near the claimed benefits.
Another airline pilot with an experience of thousands of flying hours and an aviation specialist who chose not to be identified told IBTimes India that the airlines are already using most direct routes and there isn't much room for any more improvements. He also said that the savings projected by the government is false and the government didn't explain how they calculated Rs 1,000 crore benefits.
"We already fly optimised (most direct routes). In technical terms, they are called Q-Routes and started a few years ago. So there isn't much to improve... The savings projected are false and notional. They haven't explained the calculation and the cost of ATF they have factored," he said.
19/05/20 Shashi Sharma/IBTimes
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