Indian carriers may ground more aircraft

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on March 09, 2020

With airlines from India withdrawing from China and on Monday Qatar not allowing travellers from India to enter, the number of aircraft operated by Indian carriers that will have to be grounded will increase dramatically.

On March 6, Kuwait “temporarily suspended” all flights from seven countries, including India, for a week. The decision has been taken as a “preventive measure due to the spread of coronavirus worldwide. There is another school of thought which says that as many as four to five widebody aircraft of Indian carriers could be grounded. A widebody aircraft is generally an aircraft which can seat over 250 passengers and fly long distance like flying from India to Europe or America non-stop.

Among the Indian airlines that fly to Kuwait are Air India and Air India Express.

IndiGo, Air India

It is estimated that between 6 and 8 Indian aircraft, a combination of wide-body and narrow-body aircraft operated by Indian carriers will get affected by the restrictions on movement of Indians by Qatar and Indian carriers’ decision to withdraw services from countries like China. Among the India airlines that fly to China and have withdrawn their services are IndiGo and Air India.

Explaining how an airline deploys its aircraft, a senior network planner said that on an India-China route the aircraft is used for up to 11 hours a day. “The flight is about 5 hours each way and includes one hour of ground time in China. If the aircraft has an early morning departure from India then it will be back by late evening and could probably be used for operating a domestic flight. But if it is a hopping flight say doing India-China-Japan-India then aircraft will be out for longer than 12 hours and will not be available to do any India operations. Now these aircraft will have to sit on the ground or if they are used to operate another flight then the chances are the aircraft which was used earlier to mount the flight will be grounded,” the network planner explained.

Challenges ahead

With China operations suspended till June, an airline will find it difficult to redeploy the aircraft as redeploying from the international to the domestic skies is also not an easy job.

“An airline will need to get the proper slots to start another flight domestically. It will also need time to be able to market and then sell the flight. Even if the airline is to use the aircraft which was used to operate flights to China then the chances are that another aircraft which was being used to operate this flight will be grounded,” a network planning executive said.

However, what might help the Indian airline industry is that the domestic civil aviation market is a large one. “People might change their travel plans and instead of travelling to an area affected by the virus, may decide to travel within the country,” said another senior airline official.

The former Commercial Director of a domestic airline was of the view that the domestic industry should use the fall in passenger demand, Indian carriers withdrawing from some markets and Indian passengers not being allowed into some countries as an opportunity to “get major servicing done on their aircraft so that these carriers can be back with a bang when the market bounces back and demand pick up again.”

Published on March 10, 2020

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