India struggles to find landing space for growing fleet of airliners

NEW DELHI • At last week's Farnborough Airshow, an Indian carrier placed a US$7.7 billion (S$10.4 billion) order while an additional US$72 billion of contracts are in the offing.

The next challenge: Finding landing and parking slots for these planes.

As air travel heats up in the world's fastest-growing major aviation market, infrastructure has failed to keep pace with traffic growth that has been fuelled by rising incomes and affordable fares.

The average time an aircraft spends circling before it can land in Mumbai during peak hours is about 45 minutes to an hour, versus 25 minutes for Singapore and zero for Qatar, according to Dubai-based Martin Consulting.

India plans to invest US$5 billion to improve airport infrastructure, which is "inadequate" compared with China's proposal for US$130 billion in 15 years, a June research paper by KPMG and the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India said.

A proposal for a new airport in the outskirts of Mumbai has languished, even as Boeing estimates Indian carriers need 1,740 aircraft over the next two decades.

"We need to move fast," Mr Sanjiv Kapoor, chief commercial officer of Vistara, a local unit of Singapore Airlines, said in an interview. "You cannot have a commercial capital and a political capital that do not have slots available for growth," he said, referring to Mumbai and New Delhi.

Out of the nation's 450 airstrips and airports, only 75 handle commercial airlines, with the rest remaining idle or rarely used because of weak demand, according to the government.The lack of facilities may force carriers to defer deliveries, hurting planemakers including Boeing and Airbus.

Scores of airlines struggle to manage as many as 2,000 flights a day, and none of the Indian carriers, barring AirAsia's local unit, could touch the 90 per cent on-time performance, says data from the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation.

The air-travel market in Asia's third-biggest economy grew 20 per cent last year, compared with about 10 per cent in China and less than 5 per cent in the US, according to the International Air Transport Association.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'India struggles to find landing space for growing fleet of airliners'. Print Edition | Subscribe