Airport congestion continues to cast a shadow on the On-Time Performance (OTP) of airlines in India, as data from the Ministry of Civil Aviation reveals a consistent decline in punctuality over the past three post-Covid years.

In 2021, IndiGo, the country’s largest player had an impressive OTP of 92.4 per cent, whichdeclined to 87.8 per cent in 2022, and dropped further to 85.4 per cent in 2023. The surge in departures from 1,53,367 in 2021, to 2,36,298 in 2023, was accompanied by a notable increase in delays, reaching 34,496 flights delayed in 2023.

The airline has grappled with challenges, including operational issues, especially in winter, due to adverse weather conditions. Delays stemmed from passenger, baggage, and technical challenges, data revealed.

On January 18, IndiGo Airlines’ CEO, Pieter Elbers, reassured passengers that the airline would improve its OTP, returning to earlier standards. This commitment comes after the airline experienced its worst OTP due to dense fog restricting visibility and causing delays.

Elbers said their top priority is improving on-time performance. Measures are being implemented to enhance service reliability, including expanding the digital network so that frontline staff have accurate information for effective customer communication.

SpiceJet faced the worst impact, with its OTP dropping from 84.2 per cent in 2021 to 58.4 per cent in 2023. Delays surged from 5,004 in 2021 to 10,395 in 2023.

“Fleet growth and higher passenger numbers are impacting OTP. Except for SpiceJet, others are flying more. SpiceJet’s OTP is down due to its own issues. Better processes, training, and buffer times between flights are needed,” highlighted an industry expert.

In response to businessline’s query, a SpiceJet spokesperson said, “We are working diligently on enhancing our OTP, and the same will be reflected in the February DGCA data.”

Air India’s OTP has fluctuated, rising from 83 per cent in 2021 to 86.5 per cent in 2022, only to decline by over 12 per cent to 74.5 per cent in 2023. Departures increased from 42,243 in 2021 to 58,291 in 2023, with delays soaring from 7,197 in 2021 to 14,946 in 2023.

Both Air India and Vistara exhibited similar on-time performance (OTP) trends, but Air India, despite slightly more departures, experienced a more noticeable decline. The Tata Group’s 2022 takeover of the airline has prompted operational expansion, with investments in advanced software for efficient reassignment and rebooking during disruptions.

Vistara’s OTP declined from 89.2 per cent in 2021 to 80.6 per cent in 2023, with departures rising to 58,733 from 33,806 during the same period. While Vistara did not respond to queries, insiders suggest ongoing efforts to enhance punctuality.

Akasa, though it claims high punctuality, also faced a decline in OTP, DGCA data revealed.

“The increase in the number of flights will always lead to pressure on OTP as the airport system reaches its peak. Strict adherence to block times and ground times in schedule approval will go a long way in improving OTP,” said Ameya Joshi, founder of Network Thoughts.

In December, Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia emphasised the importance of improving on-time performance (OTP) in an Advisory Group meeting. He directed the Airports Authority of India to assess technical specifications at VFR-equipped airports.

To reduce congestion and enhance OTP, the Ministry instructed Mumbai Airport to reduce the number of scheduled flights and limit business jet activities during peak hours.

Despite increased post-pandemic air traffic, the ministry criticised the operators for insufficient measures, prompting intervention due to inadequate organisation and regulation of air traffic movements.

Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, Senior Director at Crisil Ltd, said as the Indian aviation landscape evolves, the on-time performance of airlines is on a downward trajectory; besides navigating challenges such as congested airspace, infrastructural bottlenecks too needed to be addressed.

Airlines need to focus on strategies streamlining ground handling, optimising crew scheduling, collaborating with airports, and promoting transparent communication with passengers, an industry official said. Online check-ins should also be encouraged for minimal delays.