This week, all roads led to just one place, the Global Aviation Summit 2019 at Mumbai’s Grand Hyatt, which was the showcase event of the Government of India. The agenda sounded promising, so I gave it a go, spending two full days at the event. As per the event organisers, “The objective of the summit is to provide a platform to the aviation fraternity to discuss the challenges facing the sector in the newly developing growth spots and understand how technology-driven innovations will change air travel in the future.”
The event was, no doubt, a resounding success in terms of numbers and the people present. As per the official numbers, around 1200 delegates from 83 countries participated in the summit. The topics were widespread and futuristic, covering everything from the future with drones, to the challenges faced by the aviation industry, skills and safety culture development and so on. Of course, no one can emphasise enough on the networking opportunity such major events give for the participants. The participation was enthusiastic and perhaps also helped by the fact that there were no commercials involved in registering for the event.
The speakers were eminent too. For instance, there was participation by high-level speakers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Embraer, Airbus, Boeing, Qatar Airways and all the other marquee names in the aviation industry. On a domestic level as well, the event had a coup of sorts, bringing together CXOs of major Indian carriers such as Jet Airways, IndiGo and Vistara on one panel to discuss the challenges in the Indian aviation sector.
The Government of India issued a long-term roadmap, all well-intended, for the growth of civil aviation in the country. The roadmap, called
Vision 2040, sets long-term targets, which are required in today’s day and age, given that it rallies the troops and gives a unified target for everyone to look upto rather than only minding their own small patch of the aviation world. The roadmap projects the number of India’s passengers to go up to 1.1 billion by 2040 and the number of aircraft going up to 2400 in service aircraft. Not just that, brace for doubling of the number of airports to about 200 in this timeframe as well.
The government intends to support this growth by establishing a $2 billion fund to support the growth of airports that may see low traffic in their initial phases. It also hopes that by 2040, we will have commercial aircraft being assembled in India, rather than having them flown in from the USA or Europe for instance, at the moment.
But the Summit did fall short on a few parameters. One of them was the elephant in the room which got addressed neither by the organisers nor by the industry. At the panel on challenges facing the industry, where about 60 percent market share of India’s domestic flying was on the table, everyone mentioned the skills and infrastructure as the choke points for the industry, and how they were using all resources at their disposal to make India’s aviation grow. But no one treaded into a discussion about the extremely low fares in Indian aviation, which frequently do not even meet the cost of operations of the flights and bring airlines to their knees.
Comparing the fares of auto rickshaws and air travel is not even the correct metric then, because the scale and unit economics are vastly different for both modes of travel.
The road to 'Flying for all' is not all full of roses, and there are a lot of thorns along the way as well. But then, this is a good start to set the ball rolling for India’s one billion plus people to be able to fly, and for the players in the ecosystem to be able to sustainably fly them and be in good health over the years ahead. Let us hope that this becomes an ongoing event, and the government is able to club this event with others such as the Aero India and Wings India to make one comprehensive aviation event for the Indian aviation industry to converge to.
Ajay Awtaney is a business travel & aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge (www.livefromalounge.com.) Ajay flies over 200,000 miles every year, and tweets about The Business of Travel at @LiveFromALounge.