The woes of the aviation industry go way beyond the Boeing 737 Max, which are now parked on the ground because of an ailing sector.
There is a joke doing the rounds on social media in the aftermath of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft in India as well as the rest of the world. It doesn’t make light of the horrific accidents that have killed close to 350 people but highlights the problems faced by the Indian aviation sector. It says that SpiceJet has ‘no planes’, IndiGo has ‘no pilots’, Jet Airways, ‘no money’, Air India has ‘no clue’, Air Asia India has ‘no plans’ and Vistara has ‘no slots.’ Laugh with it if you must, but these words do rather succinctly wrap up the level of crisis facing our aviation sector, which really could have done without the sudden ban on the Boeing 737 Max, crippling SpiceJet’s schedule. Oddly though, while there should have been some slack in the system to take care of this unexpected disruption, the problem is that slack, or extra capacity in other words, has been used up because several other airlines have been going through other crises at the moment. Take IndiGo, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, which has been growing at an incredible pace. Rapid growth, coupled with management and pilot scheduling changes, has meant it has tens of aircraft sitting around idle on the ground. Alternative options aren’t working either — GoAir has issues with induction of the A320 Neo, Jet Airways has well-publicised cash-flow problems, unable to pay leasing companies and staff while Air India’s international flights have been adversely impacted by the closure of Pakistani airspace.
While the Central Government has gone into election mode, the bureaucrats in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have just made some noises that airlines should not be profiteering during this current crisis, particularly after the grounding of the 737 Max. However, the DGCA has no authority on prices, which have already started an uptick well before the planes were grounded. The airlines have kept most prices in reasonable check with only last-minute bookings going up rapidly. However, the increase in fares has not been a bad thing with listed airlines showing poor growth over the past few quarters. It is not wrong for airlines to look at sustainable financial models as well as passenger growth. But from a public relations point of view, profiteering only shows the airlines in a poorer light, and with dropping standards of service and charging for preferential seats, that is the last thing they can afford. Angry passengers will not fly unless they have to. That said, many aspects of the crisis were beyond the control of airlines but those that were should be best avoided going forward. Keeping planes on the ground due to a lack of pilots is not just a waste of a national resource but also financially stupid. The lack of slots should be dealt with by building more airports and runways. India’s regulator has to be more proactive and not seen as pro-industry.
Courtesy & Writer: The Pioneer