Flight Plan

Flightplan: Five years of cruising along

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on December 24, 2019 Published on December 24, 2019

As FlightPlan celebrates its 5th anniversary this fortnight, Ashwini Phadnis looks back at the last five years and what has and what has not changed in Indian aviation.

Turbulence in Indian skies

The last five years were action-packed for Indian aviation. Another new airline entered the competition — Vistara, a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata Sons, which started operations in January 2015. In the five years since, it has grown to operating over 200 flights a day and a fleet of 35 aircraft.

After some turbulent times, SpiceJet got a new head in Ajay Singh in January 2015 who piloted the airline into new territories with SpiceJet becoming the first Indian low-cost airline to join the IATA, a move that opens up far reaches of the world for its travellers.

While Jet continued looking at ways of cutting costs and returning to profitability it was not to be as,the airline “temporarily ceased operations” in April this year. The airline collapsed under a pile of debt after flying for 25 years, leaving thousands of very dissatisfied employees who still have not been paid their dues.

Also read: Can Naresh Goyal keep his smile?

The story with Air India continued much on the same lines. The airline continued running losses and the government kept everyone guessing about whether the airline will be divested or not.

Also read: Who will take the Maharaja?

The only silver lining for the industry was the double-digit passenger growth which started around 2016 and continued for over 50 months ending in May this year.

UDAN

The government introduced its ude desh ka aam nagrik (UDAN) scheme of providing air connectivity to the smaller cities and towns amidst much fanfare with Alliance Air becoming the first airline linking Delhi with Shimla and Truejet linking Hyderabad and Kadapa in April 2017.

Also read: Why ‘small’ is beautiful for UDAN

Though everyone said that the scheme looked good on paper, operational concerns were expressed right from the time that it was introduced. The auctions for giving out routes kept getting delayed, with some airlines like Air Deccan and Air Odisha being given the maximum number of routes in the initial rounds of bidding without trying to find out if the airlines had the capacity to fly on so many routes. Over two years after the scheme was launched, only 232 of the 688 RCS routes are operational. But the government is undeterred and continues to push the scheme and has extended it to water ports and on international routes as well.

Read more: One shouldn’t lose the opportunity to improve regional connectivity

Technology to the fore

The last five years marked the beginning of important and far-reaching changes in the tech world. These changes revolutionised the way Indians fly; technology is going to continue making the flying experience better both in India and across the world.

Also read: When it rains data from the cloud

Vistara introduced an interactive robot at Delhi airport which provides information about the city where the passenger is flying and the government’s digi yatra brought facial recognition biometrics to some airports in the country. Flyers can also make online complaints on another of the government’s initiatives — the Air Sewa portal.

International travellers had it even better as Bots provided them information about distances to the boarding gate or to a restaurant and how much time they will need at the immigration counters.

Also read: Air travel@technology.com

Newer airlines, new routes

India welcomed new airlines like Somon Air from Tajikistan flying twice a week between India and Dushanbe thereby giving Indian travellers the options of flying to newer destinations. Air Rwanda gave Indian travellers the option of flying to Kigali and then onwards to other destinations in Africa. Similarly, Oman Air’s connection to Najaf in Iran is popular with passengers from Lucknow.

Read more: Small is beautiful

GoAir too started flying abroad, as did Vistara. IndiGo launched flights to Istanbul (Turkey) apart from connecting Ho Chi Minh city and Hanoi in Vietnam, Chengdu and Guangzhou in China, while SpiceJet provided connections to Kabul, Dhaka and Hong Kong. Similarly, Go Air provided connections to Phuket, Dammam, Male and Air India became the only Indian airline flying to Africa when it launched a flight linking Mumbai to Nairobi and to South Korea with a flight to Seoul.

Also read: GoAir poised to take off, explore new horizons

Ending on a tragic note

The five years, however, ended on a sad and tragic note for international aviation. While manufacturers brought in newer aircraft and engines some of them ended in tragic consequences for flyers, the crew and the international aviation industry. Airbus faced problems with its A-320 New Engine Options with some Pratt and Whitney engines which failed during flight and some aircraft had to make emergency landings. This variety of aircraft is being flown by IndiGo and GoAir in India and airlines were forced to make changes to their engines.

The Boeing MAX was grounded across the world in March last year when a Lion Air and an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft crashed killing all passengers on board. Questions were raised as to how an aircraft with faulty systems was certified and allowed to fly globally.

People who powered the action

During the last five years Flight Plan tracked the path of those who helped the industry reach where it is now. Captain Ayodh Kapur, who flew with Tata Airlines, the precursor to Air India and Air Works, the country’s first Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facility which was started in 1951 and survives till today were some of them. The page also highlighted those people who are helping airlines save the environment, like Ashwani Khanna who has brought in Taxibots which help save fuel and thus reducethe carbon footprint.

We also bid farewell to Saroj Datta who was considered as the brain behind the starting of Jet Airways and Raghu Menon, former Chairman and Managing Director, Air India.

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Published on December 24, 2019
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