When Jet Airways
was operating to its full schedule, the fleet size of Indian airlines had peaked at 614 in January. Following a severe liquidity crunch, Jet had started defaulting on aircraft lessor payment, resulting in the grounding of the airline. However, while the capacity void in the domestic market has been filled, a vacuum still remains in international connectivity, especially on the India-Europe and onwards route, which was well connected by Jet Airways
via the Boeing 777, Airbus A330 aircraft and its hubs in Paris and Amsterdam.
No other Indian airline, except Air India, operates wide-body aircraft, preventing them from flying routes beyond six hours.
The domestic capacity was primarily regained because of aggressive induction by IndiGo and SpiceJet. At the beginning of the winter schedule in 2018, SpiceJet had an operational fleet of 65 aircraft. Currently, it stands at 103 while IndiGo’s fleet size increased from 193 aircraft to 248.
“In total, the two airlines together added around 100 aircraft in the last one year. Go Air has also increased the pace of its induction,” another industry executive said.
According to publicly available research by Ameya Joshi, founder of blog Network Thoughts, Mumbai airport — the primary hub of Jet Airways — has surpassed the capacity available when Jet Airways was functional. Joshi’s research showed that Mumbai had 1.8 million domestic seats on offer for October 2019, 2 per cent more than October 2018, when the airport had 1.76 million seats on offer.
“Mumbai’s capacity was regained because of SpiceJet operating a higher capacity aircraft than Jet Airways. With SpiceJet operating such aircraft, more seats will be available from Mumbai in the coming months,” Joshi said.
With capacity back in the market, airline executives say that the Indian market will return to growth by the first half of next year, provided the slowdown that has gripped the Indian economy doesn’t cast a negative impact.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air traffic growth immediately after the closure of Jet Airways fell by 0.5 per cent— the first time it happened in six years.
Now, all pointers indicate that the rate of growth will be back, unless the slowdown is so severe that it impacts air travel despite airlines providing low fares, an executive said.
Indian airlines are expected to add at least 40 aircraft by March 31, 2020. “Network expansion is one of our top business priorities at present. With our fleet expansion, we will continue to grow our domestic and international network, including the commencement of medium and long-haul international flights in 2020,” Leslie Thng, CEO of Vistara, said. The airline will increase its fleet size to 42 from the current 35 by March 2020.