The suspension of
Jet Airways and subsequent allocation of slots to other airlines based on capacity induction has led to a clamour to add capacity, get slots and start operations at the earliest. The need is so dire that SpiceJet is operating aircraft which still has the Jet Airways livery. Now, photos have surfaced of AirAsia India aircraft resembling IndiGo’s because, well, the aircraft it has leased once belonged to IndiGo.
Since Jet Airways started reducing flights, travellers and pilots have been consistently reporting shorter block times, ahead of schedule arrivals, next to nil congestion and absence of delays while arriving at congested airports like Mumbai.
With slots now available, it is time that airports led by Mumbai and New Delhi work together with the regulator and airlines to ensure that block times are rationalised for flights to ensure that the congestion which is caused by delayed arrivals or early arrivals is corrected before the next set of boom hits the Indian skies.
Hotly Contested Topic
On-Time Performance (OTP), or punctuality, is a hotly contested subject in recent years. The last six months have seen an unlikely candidate — GoAir lead the OTP charts and IndiGo — which marketed their OTP as a differentiator be in the middle of the stack. The OTP business was taken so seriously that Spicejet and IndiGo were at loggerheads in the past and had led to Mumbai Airport (MIAL) suspend a few employees on the issue. Passengers have often taken to social media to express their displeasure towards airlines for inflating the block times and reaching early.
To be fair to the airlines, the slots are filed based on projected block times. These include the projected taxi out and in times at origin and destination airport along with the time taken to cover the distance at a particular time of the day when the flight is being planned.
More often than not, at congested airports like Mumbai and Delhi, the airlines are forced to opt for slots which are on offer rather than the ones which are as per requirements. While sometimes the difference is 05–10 minutes, the difference could be as high as 20 or 30 minutes.
The only way to adjust the block time then is to change the departure timings at the origin, which if it is a congested airport may not be possible. India is uniquely characterised by airports that are under the control of the armed forces and civil airports, which have restrictions. Both these types lead to a shortage of bays or restriction on operating hours, eventually not allowing the airlines to change the timings at both or either ends and live with the timings which they have been offered.
While a flight has an inflated or short block time as the case may be, the flight ends up taking as much time as needed to traverse the distance. A flight that has inflated block time reaches early at the destination and the one that is short on block time ends up with a delay.
Airport Restrictions At Work
Airports world over and India have a restriction on the number of movements per hour, which is further broken down into maximum arrivals or departures that can be handled in a particular hour. When you have additional movements that are to be catered, this leads to a delay for an aircraft that is expected at that time of the day as a scheduled movement. A few such cases and airports like Mumbai will start seeing a cascading effect until there is some gap to accommodate the extra movements. Rarely have airports had a buffer.
With slots now available, priority should be given to flights which are either short on block times or have inflated block times to come to an average for the sector with adjustments based on the time of the day. This will help ensure when the airports reach peak capacity in a few months, the system is more mature than before.
Sample this, a short sector like Lucknow–Delhi sees block times varying from 1:05 to 1:40! All on the same aircraft type. On a longer sector like Mumbai–Delhi, also the busiest route in the country and consistently ranked one of the top 10 busiest in the world, the flight times range from 1:50 to 2:30 – a range of 40 minutes!
The case is repeated across sectors like Delhi – Hyderabad, Goa – Delhi, Chennai – Delhi and many more. A few cases like those between Delhi and Dehradun see the turboprop Q400 aircraft take lesser time than the A320 going by the schedule.
Opportunity does not knock twice and for a structural growth of aviation in the country, this is one like no other. Indeed, Jet Airways is suspended and even though remote there is the likelihood that the airline may come back to life and seek slots.
Going by the rate at which the aircraft has disappeared for Jet Airways, it is unlikely that if it starts it will with 100+ planes. The slots that need to be given to Jet will be from the available pool, which still remains the same in a number of slots after adjusting the block times for incumbent carriers.
It is up to the airports and airlines to get the slots in order to ensure efficient operation. If airlines still want to have inflated block, they definitely should look at getting the short blocks corrected, now!
Ameya Joshi is the founder of aviation analysis blog NetworkThoughts.