Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A new pecking order among airlines at India’s busiest airport

Be it getting back Jet Airways slots or adding capacity — the bone of contention has always been slots at Mumbai — the country’s second busiest airport, which serves the financial capital of India. It is not as if all other airports have slots aplenty… but other airports are expanding. Bengaluru, for example, will have both its runways operational at the end of this month. This will lead to the release of additional slots for airlines. Delhi is building its fourth runway. It already has two parallel runways in operation and with the expansion of Terminal 1, there will be more slots on offer.

Cut back to Mumbai. The airport that prides itself as the busiest single-runway airport in the world has run out of slots. It works in multiple peaks during the day, and like many other airports in the country, Mumbai’s runway capacity and apron capacity are not in sync. This means that the runway could handle more movement at night but there are hardly any bays that can accommodate widebody aircraft. With so many constraints, who would not want to have a slot in Mumbai?

No wonder then, that AirAsia India accepted red eye flights to Mumbai to get a foot in the door when it began operations. It got lucky when Jet Airways suspended operations. The last two years have been tumultuous, with 2019 leading to a scaleback in Jet Airways’ operations followed by suspension in March-April. Thereafter, 2020 being a pandemic year, saw air traffic coming to a halt in March-April.

Maharashtra has been a Covid-19 hotspot, and when domestic aviation re-started, the State was one of the first to have restrictions in place. Mumbai, for example, allowed only 25 departures daily. Slowly, this increased, while rules like having a negative RT-PCR test result to enter the city by air continued for passengers arriving from certain States.

The Central government also started lifting restrictions in phases and from 33 percent capacity at the beginning, airlines were allowed to operate up to 80 percent of their pre-Covid capacity. In February 2020 — the last full month before operations were suspended, domestic aviation in India saw 3,136 daily departures. This translates into airlines now being allowed 2,509 daily departures, a number they have so far not operated.

23/03/21 Ameya Joshi/Moneycontrol

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