Air traffic shift: Bharat is finally catching up with India - Hindustan Times
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Air traffic shift: Bharat is finally catching up with India

Mar 12, 2024 03:40 PM IST

The top 10 airports in India now handle 69% of the total footfalls while the top six handle just 59%.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a slew of airport projects, totalling more than 9,000 crore last Sunday. This is one of the many infrastructure projects being dedicated to the nation before the general elections are announced and the model code of conduct comes into effect.

Expanded Terminal-1 Delhi Airport inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by video conferencing on Sunday, March 10. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)
Expanded Terminal-1 Delhi Airport inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by video conferencing on Sunday, March 10. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)

A lot of focus over the last few years has been on operationalising new airports, taking the total operational airports from below 70 to over 100, with the actual count of airports operationalised touching over 140 in the last decade. There are debates and counter debates on RCS-UDAN but numbers don’t lie.

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The country ended 2014 with 6.73 crore domestic passengers, this more than doubled in 2023 when the country recorded 15.20 crore domestic passengers. Most airports benefited from this and doubled their footfalls over these years. However, the most interesting of all these numbers has been the slight shift of share of traffic from top 6 metro airports and top 10 airports in the country in favour of the smaller airports.

Numbers don’t lie

In January 2014, the total domestic footfall was 1.01 crore passengers. Footfalls include both arriving and departing passengers and airport terminal capacity is planned based on footfalls since it caters to both the types of passengers. The footfall in January 2024 was 2.62 crore passengers.

Also read: In one sweep, Uttar Pradesh gets the highest number of operational airports for a state

What is interesting is that the top 10 airports by domestic footfalls have remained the same 10 years apart but the growth has been uneven. Hyderabad, for example, has seen its domestic footfalls surge 3.5 times in the last 10 years, while Bengaluru has grown 3.2 times. Mumbai has seen the lowest growth, just short of doubling the traffic, which is less than the national average. The situation is similar in Chennai, while Kolkata saw its traffic double.

Ahmedabad and Pune grew 2.7 times, while Guwahati grew 2.5 times and Delhi, the largest airport in India grew 2.4 times, during this period.

The split is changing

In 2014, the top 10 airports in the airport were responsible for 75% of the country's domestic footfall with only one-fourth of the traffic originating or terminating beyond the top 10 airports. Even in this, the traffic was more skewed towards the six metros whose footfalls comprised 64% of total domestic footfall in the country.

Cut to 10 years later, the top 10 airports in the country handled 69% of total footfalls while the top six handled only 59%. The drop is actually welcome because in isolation traffic has grown immensely but it has spread across multiple airports.

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The reasons are multiple which starts with addition of more airports on one side of the spectrum to lack of capacity to expand for metro airports on the other side. Call it a combination of both, the fact remains that traffic has spread across the country and that means places like Chandigarh, Srinagar, Coimbatore, Jaipur, Indore, Varanasi, Lucknow and more in the hinterland.

This is also an indication that there are flights beyond the top 6 and top 10 places in the country, a testament of growing economy, trade and VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) travel.

Tail Note

There often is a discussion between India and Bharat, indicating the difference between the urban and rural areas. The shift of traffic is an indicator that Bharat is catching up. While it will never be a 50-50 split, the current numbers are indicators of how there is growth beyond the metro cities of India.

Also read: Why airport lounges in India are as packed as a railway station

Does this indicate better days for regional aviation? While aviation is cut throat and full of skeletons in India, regional aviation is even worse. The difference in price point between what a metro passenger can afford and what a non-metro passenger can offer is thinning which could signal a successful regional carrier for future.

Lastly, the shift would not have been possible without the incentives of RCS-UDAN and IndiGo’s ATRs for one incentivised airlines to think beyond the metros and IndiGo’s ATRs helped give one-stop connectivity to major metros from the hinterland - something which the country lacked all along from even the erstwhile operators of Turboprops like Air India group, Kingfisher Airlines or Jet Airways.

Ameya Joshi is an aviation analyst.

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