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Indian skies fall short on wide-bodied aircraft

By Surajeet Das Gupta
November 07, 2019 16:48 IST
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The collapse of Jet Airways has everything to do with the falling number of wide-bodied aircraft.

The aviation industry is expanding but the number of wide-bodied aircraft has shrunk from 63 out of a total aircraft strength of 614 in 2018  to 43 - a development which experts say is out of sync with the global norm in which wide-bodied planes make up 20 per cent of an airline’s fleet.

In India, the share of wide-bodied planes is only seven per cent, down from over 10 per cent in the beginning of this year.


Without wide-bodied planes which have more space and can carry more fuel, airlines cannot offer a comfortable experience for passengers on medium haul or long haul flights or carry a larger number of passengers.

The collapse of Jet Airways has everything to do with the falling number of wide-bodied aircraft.

You cannot have a shrinking wide-bodied market in a country where aviation is growing.

"We see a large opportunity in this space where now we only have Air India operating,” said Vikram Rai, country head, GE Aviation in India which has virtual monopoly in the wide-bodied engine market.

GE and CFM, which is a joint venture with Safran Aircraft Engines, has over 300 narrow-bodied engines and 40 wide-bodied engines in operation in India which are spread across virtually every airline.

In India it is a key player with current orders of 800 narrow-bodied and six wide-bodied engines.

Despite the overall economic slowdown, India’s airlines are doing well with passenger growth in both the domestic and international market.

The airlines have managed, within a few months, to add enough new capacity to more than fill the void left by Jet’s extinction in April.

According to estimates, the industry needs immediately to add 80 more wide-bodied aircraft to reach the global average levels.

After all, in India in 2018-19 there were 344 million passengers who flew, out of which 68-70 million were outbound traffic, which is 20 per cent.

Without a sufficient number of such planes for these medium and long haul flights, Indian carriers are being displaced by global carriers whose share of outbound international traffic on the medium and long haul routes is going up.

For instance, it is estimated that the US and UK together constituted for over seven per cent of outbound international traffic and if the whole of Europe is added, this share goes up to around 15 per cent.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in a recent report said that in FY ’19, the total number of seats in Europe and India grew to 5.1 million, an increase of 13 per cent primarily led by Jet Airways.

After its collapse, analysts say the bulk of the seats went to foreign carriers.

GE’s Rai says that he is in talks with all major carriers to push them to buy wide-bodied aircraft. But it can take 24-36 months for delivery of an aircraft even if orders are given now.

Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

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Surajeet Das Gupta in New Delhi
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