The aviation industry in India has come a long way. 100 years to be precise. From humble beginnings, when Henri Piquet, a french pilot, covered a distance of 6 miles, carrying 6,500 mails on a biplane in 1911, to a flashy Vijay Mallya "personally" selecting air hostesses and welcoming fliers, the industry's evolution has been interesting to watch.
The hot race between full service carriers continues, with Jet Airways pipping the 2009 chart-topper Kingfisher Airlines for the lead spot.
As in the 2009 survey, the race for the top two positions was close. The biggest loser was Spicejet, falling from the 3rd to the 6th rank. Indigo Airlines, at number 3, is the highest ranked low cost carrier (LCC), or budget airline as they are known.
Budget airlines are important in the Indian context. "Our typical consumer is looking for immediate access to the cheapest fares," said Director-General of Civil Aviation, E K Bharat Bhushan.
They have not only made air travel more affordable- frequency and coverage have improved as well. Be it Jodhpur, Nanded or Kandla, cheap flights are available everywhere. People who have never considered flying are stepping into airports now.
In India, LCCs and full-service carriers have the same high standard of customer service-the difference is only a meal on board. However, with the top slots going to two full-service airlines, it shows that the Indian traveller, though price conscious, values comfort and service equally.
Overall, the industry average for customer satisfaction is higher than the 2009 Airline survey. "More people are travelling and people are travelling more. This may have resulted in passengers expecting less than what they did before and exhibiting higher satisfaction levels. Airlines are offering better services too. After all, competition does have its compensation," said Raghu Roy, CEO, Monitoring and Research Systems Private Limited, our knowledge partner for the survey.
The airline industry finds itself stuck in a paradox of high growth and heavy losses. The aviation market is growing at an annual rate of 15%. Domestic passenger traffic in India touched 53.6 million in 2010-2011. However, private airlines in India have lost an estimated R3,500 crore in the first six months of the current fiscal year, more than the Rs 2,900 crore they lost in all of 2010-11. IndiGo is the only airline to have made profits this year.
A combination of low fares and high costs are to blame. Some airlines, like Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher, desperately need capital to pay off debt.
The potential for growth is huge. India would require 1,320 new airplanes worth $150 billion in the next two decades, according to aircraft maker Boeing Co. With an equal balance of problems and potential, the aviation sector is definitely up for an interesting and perhaps bumpy ride.
Don't forget to fasten your seatbelt.