India may be the world’s fastest growing aviation market but its crippling airport infrastructure crunch is now threatening this growth story.
A meeting was held between airlines and aviation authorities to finalise the winter flight schedule. Only three airports – Chennai, Bengaluru and Trivandrum – can handle four more flights an hour this winter while all other big airports remain choked in terms of runway capacity.
Aviation authorities approved 18,860 weekly domestic flights from 90 airports in winter 2017-18 – up 9.8% from the 17,170 from 77 airports cleared for this summer.
The increase in approved flights- which is always more than flights actually operated – is mainly due to clearing regional flights from hitherto unused small airports.
However, the crunch at big airports is leading to alarm bells ringing with airport operators now threatening to act tough on airlines that do not actually operate the precious slots given to them by taking them away and giving them to some one else who will operate a flight at that time.
Airlines get slots approved but are not able to operate all the flights due to various reasons. Among the major factors is that in the last one year, grounding of a large number of Airbus A-320 new engine options (NEO) due to trouble with the Pratt & Whitney engines used on these planes by two budget airlines has led to flight cancellations.
In a possible first, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has “proposed financial penalty for slot misuse by airlines”. Private airport operators also said airlines must adhere to slots and give up those which they are not operating so that someone else can fly at the time.
Given the slot crunch at major airports, accommodating new regional flights, which typically link a big airport to nearby small airports, is also proving to be a challenge. Joint secretary in the aviation ministry Usha Padhee, who is in charge of regional connectivity scheme (RCS), “requested all airlines to move some of their flights in red eye hours (prior to 5 am) to make room for regional connectivity flights during the early morning hours.
“She suggested that swapping of slots may also be done to provide slots for RCS operations,” the minutes say.