In Pre COVID-19 phase Aviation Sector was one of the fastest growing sector globally making 60 % of world populations traveling by Air counting to approx 5.0 Billion passengers annually. India and China were the key growth drivers for the sector growing double digit CAGR i.e 15% & above and minimum being 5%. Pre COVID survey reports projected passengers traffic for India to 478 Million by Year 2036.
Due to COVID-19, like all other sectors Aviation sector too crashed, though pulling it till Feb 2020, when EU reached the Peak of COVID had also laid its roots across globe. Hence, ICAO had to issue guidelines for continuing Air Ops only for emergency, evacuation etc with long list of additional safety compliances, flight times, passenger load, Cargo restrictions etc.
Now that EU, China, Australia and many Countries have effectively controlled COVID and India too has been in the Controlled mode since begining due to various measures taken by Govt of India, yet Aviation Sector is facing big challenge in revival despite the fact Air Travel play key role in business growth across industries. This has two key factors on institutional level e.g comfort in conducting virtual meetings through Video Conferencing which was other wise facing mindset issues for over a decade in pre COVID phase, and Safety concern at individual levels especially senior executives who contribute to larger share of Air travel are more vulnerable to COVID due to age & diseases i.e. Diabetes, Kidney-Lungs Problems etc
Aviation Sector because of its fixed cost has been known as nonviable Business Model, yet none of the stake holders e.g ICAO, Airline Operators, Govts etc have taken any initiatives. The key fixed cost components which need flab cut are :
a. Pilot Training Cost by making Pilot Training more Simulator based.
b. Pilot Salaries rationalisation to a reasonable level, currently it is exorbitant. The same can be reset to 50-60% of pre COVID levels.
c. High Aircraft & major component Leasing Cost, need rationalisation.
d. High Maintenance Cost due to discretionary than digital regulatory compliance, need to be autonomous maintenance.
e. Aviation Turbine Fuel price to be rationalised and free of taxes.
f. Salaries of Technical Staff need to be rationalised. The same can be reset to 50-60% of pre COVID levels.
As far as Indian Aviation sector is concerned, it has been under severe public scrutiny & out rage for no care for passenger safety, comforts & hospitality, unpredictable & unreasonable fares and other concerns of passengers; yet no concrete actions taken by the DGCA and Ministry of Civil Aviation till 2013.
During Year 2004-2013, Private Airport Operators blatantly violated OMDA (Operations, Management and Development Agreement) imposed Development fee on passengers for the infra which was not yet developed and finally the funds were utilised for commercial development such as 5 Star Hotels , Malls etc. All the policies were made to protect Airline operator’s business interests at the cost of passenger’s concerns.
Between year 2014-18, new schemes like UDAN etc were initiated but remained least effective on ground till 2018 due to lack of proper Infra, hi speed road connectivity and interest by Airlines etc.
Railway Ministry improved state of Railways to a historic level in terms of state of Platforms, Toilets, Drinking water, Waiting rooms, Passengers comforts in trains, quality of food etc, which has attracted passengers to Indian Railways remarkably.
During year 2019-20, major reforms in Aviation Sector, in the form of new initiatives & regulatory control to address passengers safety, comforts & hospitality were introduced but before the momentum could move on to next level, COVID attacked.
Now that Aviation Sector is seeking revival globally, unlike other nations, Indian Aviation Sector is still struggling seeking passenger flow. As Ministry of Civil Aviation is responsible for revival of Aviation Sector, it need to resort to PCBMs (Passenger;s Confidence Building Measures) to focus and introduce concrete regulatory solutions to key passengers concerns for safety, comforts & hospitality etc as under :
a. Guidelines for safe operations for strict compliance on ground movements i.e quick ticketing, ease of check-in, security, lounge facilities, safe drinking water, wheel chair facilities, waiting capacity etc. In flight services e.g safe drinking water, safe food, proper ventilation, safe luggage management, hospitality facilities during flight delay, change over halts, flight cancellations etc.
b. Fare control mechanism to ensure NO fare war, NO fare rigging, No hidden additional charges added in fare, more economic fare on UDAN routes, Helicopter /small Aircraft services for feeder services to UDAN routes to increase passenger loads.
c. Automatic refund of delayed & canceled flights as Statutory Compliances.
d. Robust Passengers grievance handling mechanism with high fines on Airlines/Airport Operators.
e. Flying Miles loot on passengers and its capitalisation in books of accounts of Airlines to Stop.
f. Airline’s must under go Regulator’s Annual Audit for Operational Viability and Safe Operations; Annual Audit by CAG or any other Statutory Auditing Body for financial Viability.
g. Form an Autonomous Body under Ministry of Civil Aviation constituted by ex Pilots, ex Aviation Engineers, ex ATCOs, equal numbers of members from Public to under take 6 monthly surveillance/ as & when class-1 Accident takes place and submit the report to Ministry which need to be addressed in totality.
As economy is seeking revival, public at large has Railway as strong alternative to Air Travel as Indian Railways has facilitated passenger friendly Ticketing, better Platform states, reasonable Fares, safe Water & hygienic food, better waiting rooms, better On board Services e.g general comfort, safe water & food, hygienic toilets, better hospitality, no harassment by TC etc.
Keeping in view above factors and tough competition from Railways , Aviation Sector need to do much more than what is expected by the Passengers to make it their choice mode of travel.