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UPSC Sansad TV: Government Efforts & Initiatives to Boost Civil Aviation

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Introduction:

The Indian Civil Aviation industry has seen an exponential growth in passenger traffic over the past few years and a corresponding increase in the numbers of Airports, Aircraft and flight routes. Niti Aayog has envisaged expanding airport capacity by more than five times, to handle one billion trips a year. This unprecedented growth has increased the security needs of the civil aviation sector. Airport security is also a great concern for domestic and international travellers in the wake of threats of terrorism. It is therefore imperative for the Government to ensure the security of airport as per international standards, with zero tolerance against any loopholes.

Challenges plaguing the Indian Aviation sector in general:

  • Cash reserves of airline companies are running low and many are almost at the brink of bankruptcy. Moreover, the crisis could lead to loss of jobs and pay cuts. Some airlines have asked many of their employees to go on leave without pay.
  • Cost of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) is very high in India. High taxes and being vulnerable to currency movements makes it a large chunk of Indian airlines’ operating expenses— around 40% compared to 20% for foreign carriers.
  • The intense competition among domestic carriers, the need to capture a slice of the ever expanding market and passenger price sensitivity makes the airlines difficult to raise ticket prices.
  • The new civil aviation policy (NCAP) 2016’s regional connectivity scheme doesn’t help. The ticket price caps it imposes under the scheme, the fact that the viability gap funding will last only for three years and various operational issues such as the lack of slots for connecting flights at major airports are a hindrance.
  • Reduced passenger traffic may mean stakeholders could set aside more funds for the development of drones and autonomous vehicles to better serve its whole ecosystem.
  • The Cargo sector is already well accustomed to using them

Challenges the Indian Airports, in particular, face are:

  • Topography and lack of space leading to development of tabletop airports:
    • it is an airport located and built on top of a plateau or hilly surface, with one or both ends of the runway overlooking a drop.
    • The airports in the country which would count as “tabletops”, are namely Lengpui (Mizoram), Shimla and Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), Pakyong (Sikkim), Mangaluru (Karnataka), Kozhikode and Kannur (both Kerala).
    • there have been some aviation incidents at these airports, it was the accident in Mangaluru on May 22, 2010, that highlighted operational risks.
  • Poor infrastructure in tier-II and tier-III cities like road connectivity, transport facilities to reach the airport, difficult terrains, and frequent cancellation of flights makes it difficult to build traffic on the route on a sustained basis.
  • Capacity:
    • India’s metro airports have already run out of capacity in terms of landing and parking slots. Also, there is not much capacity augmentation due to addition of UDAN routes.
    • Current airport capacity is presently estimated at 317m. However, by March 2018 itself, traffic reached 308.7m.
    • There is concern that India’s airport system could exceed its structural capacity by early 2022, said Sydney-based think tank Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA).
    • According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, by 2036 India will have around 480m passengers, greater than Japan and Germany combined.
  • Overburdened regulator:
    • The Airports Authority of India is ‘over-burdened with multiple responsibilities for airport operations, construction and rehabilitation, airspace management, regional connectivity, cargo handling and various other activities

Measures needed:

Structural:

  • avoidance of the downward slope in the overshoot area particularly on ‘tabletop’ runways
  • the need for a ground arresting system for aircraft — such a facility is maintained at almost all airfields of the Indian Air Force’.
    • Engineered Materials Arrestor/Arresting System, it is made of engineered lightweight and crushable cellular cement/concrete.
    • Used at the runway ends, it acts as a safety barrier and successfully stops an aircraft overrun.
  • A visual reference system to alert the pilot (while landing) of the remaining distance to be covered;
  • Location of the ATC tower, approach and area radars
  • The role of the Rescue and Fire Fighting service, aerodrome risk assessment and, finally, recommendations for the DGCA.

Non-structural:

  • Policy interventions like UDAN (“Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik”) have given impetus to revive the un-served and under-served airports and revitalizing regional air connectivity in India.
  • As Indian aviation market continues to surge, focus should be ensuring adequate airport infrastructure capacity.
  • The MRO industry in India holds great potential. It is important to ensure that the industry is regulated properly, and that the required skills are developed to service increasingly sophisticated aircraft
  • More transparent ATF regime should be ensured where oil marketing companies are required to declare costs and methods used to price the end product.
  • Excessive concentration of power in the DGCA should be checked to ensure proper competition and economic viability of the sector.

Conclusion:

  • India’s aviation industry has a huge potential and offers huge growth opportunities. Like telecom and financial services, aviation has been a stand-out sector after liberalization.
  • There is much at stake in ensuring the health and competitive spirit of this industry given that it can be an economic force multiplier with a clear knock-on impact in terms of creating jobs.

 

SANSAD TV 11-3-24