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View: For India to become an aviation hub, first fix airport terminal connectivity


As the new airport at Jewar is expected to see its first flight next year, the airport is talking about connectivity with the existing airport as well as extending the existing metro lines to provide connectivity to have from NOIDA and Greater NOIDA. It may sound funny but plans are being made to connect the existing airport with a buildable airport where the three terminals of the existing airport are not seamlessly connected to each other.

With the unions cabinet working towards having a policy in place that relates to areas under different ministries such as Civil Aviation and the Home first, the time to act was yesterday. But as they say, it’s better late than never.

What does an aviation hub do?

A number of things have to align themselves well to create a perfect hub. It starts with a strong airline, voluminous local traffic, Infrastructure, connectivity, easy transfers, government policy and location. Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport is the largest airport in the country that ticks most of these.

It has not one but two strong airlines namely Air India and IndiGo. With a large traffic area and local area, it already serves as a hub for both airlines. Pre-COVID, Air India had 3.56 million transit passengers at Delhi, while IndiGo had 6.28 million transit passengers.

With a fourth runway, the airport has the best airside infrastructure in the country; the connectivity index is high as 70% of Indian airports are within 90 minutes of air travel from Delhi and the location also lies on major airways carrying traffic from Europe to South East Asia. Then where is the challenge? The challenge is about policy and transitions.

After all these years of expansion, there is no easy way to transfer between the three terminals at Delhi, and all the options are on the city side, which is tedious and time consuming. The inability to have a skytrain or internal buses means high transit times across terminals, making the connection inefficient and unattractive. The security rules, which involve re-security even when the passenger is always in a sterile area, add to the challenges.

The highest pain for IndiGo

IndiGo may not have a wide body aircraft (yet), but it carries more passengers than Air India on the international side as well. In addition, IndiGo has shared and interline arrangements with Turkish Airlines, American Airlines, Air France-KLM, Qatar Airways, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.

A split terminal operation means that passengers connecting to and from IndiGo have to make their own way between the terminals, with luggage in case they come in – an idea that is not very happy or conducive to choosing such a connection.

Operating from three terminals at Delhi (and two at Mumbai) means that IndiGo passengers have to hop, skip, jump across terminals for connections and the airline is always stuck on offering the best connections.

Could this be why the airline is continuing to order widebody planes? The operations and connections would not be optimal and it would not be a challenge to take on the global carriers and hub carriers from the middle east, even in competition with Air India or the Tata airlines group (consolidated at one hub) .

Levers can implement multiple policies

Around the world, airlines that want to establish hubs have worked with the government to have a transit visa on arrival or transit holidays that help showcase the country, stimulate the economy and help grow as suggested. That is a long way off, as we are still struggling to open all our immigration counters at peak time – probably due to staff shortages.

An attitude to find a solution rather than pushing back on options and the fact that it can be done in Delhi if it is done in Singapore or Frankfurt, should drive decision making from now on. As Air India becomes stronger and IndiGo expands its wings, with or without a widebody aircraft, the hub carriers in the region will try to lure Indians away from the local airlines.

This is not just about low fares or seamless connectivity but to attract passengers from those markets and shift them through Delhi (or Mumbai). The opportunity has been staring at us for a long time, it is under the ecosystem—airports, policies, ATC, BCAS and others—that he is pushing and working on for the good of aviation and the country.

The author, Ameya Joshi, is an aviation analyst.

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Updated: 16 November 2023, 02:17 PM IST

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