Every 3rd Air India flight was delayed at Mumbai: Why congestion is hurting all airlines

New Delhi: Every third Air India flight taking off from Mumbai airport last month was delayed. Though Air India is hardly the benchmark for on-time performance (OTP) by India’s airlines, private airlines too witnessed delays at Mumbai. This pulled down their overall on-time performance of each and every domestic airline since flights from the other big Indian airports did not face as many delays for any carrier.

Executives at some airlines blame severe congestion at the Mumbai airport for massive delays for and caution things may get worse in the upcoming winter schedule as runway upgradation work is slated around November. This means the runway would be closed for some length of time, worsening the situation.

 Every 3rd Air India flight was delayed at Mumbai: Why congestion is hurting all airlines

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. PTI

A Mumbai International Airport spokesperson was unavailable for comments. But one airline executive said the airport has almost stopped awarding new slots and is only offering some for late night or red-eye flights and some airlines have had to resort to novel ways to enhance capacity with these constraints persisting.

At least one full service carrier is now using a wide body, twin aisle aircraft normally flown for medium haul routes on the Delhi-Mumbai leg to beat Mumbai airport constraints. The new proposed airport, at Navi Mumbai, could have solved Mumbai’s congested skies’ problem but is still years away from commencing operations. The bid itself has not been awarded for beginning construction of this much-awaited airport.

According to data released by DGCA, Air India’s OTP at Mumbai was just 66.5% when that at Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad was 77.7%, 76% and 80.8%. That means while every third AI flight was delayed at Mumbai, only a fourth of its flights were delayed at Delhi and Bangalore and less than 20% at Hyderabad.

For Jet Airways (together with JetLite), Mumbai OTP was just over 77% when on-time performance at Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad airports was well over 80%. Ditto for the LCCs. Market leader IndiGo had OTP of 77.3% at Mumbai, GoAir fell just short of the 70% mark and SpiceJet was at 75/3%. Vistara’s overall OTP suffered due to the Mumbai issue and the airline ranked below AirAsia India in OTP simply because the latter does not fly to Mumbai.

The congestion issues at Mumbai assume significance when India is being seen as one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world and has been witnessing almost 20% CAGR for the last many months. Between January and May this year, domestic airlines carried 3.96 crore versus 3.22 crore during the same five-month period in 2015, registering a growth of 22.87%. With such passenger growth and future potential, it is disturbing to see congestion issues at a busy airport affecting expansion plans of homegrown airlines.

Meanwhile, robust growth in India’s air traffic is happening at least partly due to low ticket prices. Indian carriers together carried 85.69 lakh passengers during May against 71.27 lakh in May 2015 - registering a growth of 21.63 per cent. IndiGo ferried the highest number of passengers - 33.37 lakh - during this period, retaining its grip on more than a third of the market.

Interestingly, Jet Airways at 13.94 lakh and national carrier Air India at 13.34 lakh passengers were neck-to-neck (not taking JetLite numbers into account). It seems Air India has been adopting aggressive marketing techniques, doing rigorous pre and post flight checks etc to get more occupancy across its domestic network. Frequent flash sales – though denied by Air India – have also helped aircraft occupancies. Jet, which has often been accused on focusing more on international routes at the expense of domestic ones, actually has 40 domestic destinations on its route map versus just 20 international destinations. But it stil draws about 55% of revenues from international operations. Less focus on domestic routes may not be the reason for Jet’s losing battle against an aggressive Air India.

The number of passengers flown by SpiceJet and GoAir stood at 10.98 lakh and 7.91 lakh, respectively, the data showed.

Then, the passenger load factor of all airlines increased in May compared to the previous month, due to the onset of the peak tourist season. SpiceJet logged the highest seat factor at 93.5 per cent in May, followed by GoAir at 88.6%. IndiGo was able to fill over 87% of the seats across its aircraft but the real story lies in the seat factors of the two Tata airlines. Vistara reported its highest ever occupancy of 80.1% on increased connections and sustained pricing interventions while AirAsia India also surprised with 86.8% seat factor.

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Updated Date: Jun 21, 2016 16:25:46 IST