Modi government's new aviation policy: Flying for the masses is noble cause to espouse but it’s horizons away

The proposal to widen the Indian aviation map by bringing down the cost of flying to Rs 2500 per hour of flight is laudable. This is entirely different from pricing a ticket on that peg for flights of one hour, so one is not quite clear which option the government has in mind.

Bikram Vohra November 01, 2015 08:27:18 IST
Modi government's new aviation policy: Flying for the masses is noble cause to espouse but it’s horizons away

The proposal to widen the Indian aviation map by bringing down the cost of flying to Rs 2500 per hour of flight is laudable. This is entirely different from pricing a ticket on that peg for flights of one hour, so one is not quite clear which option the government has in mind.

But the idea either way or together can only take off if the infrastructure is in place and there is enough skilled manpower and investment to make it work. It sounds nice to say things like a middle class family can then afford to fly annually but it means squat in real terms. You need landing fields, air traffic controls, proper terminals, pilots, crew, maintenance, multiple ground equipment and then the requisite aircraft that fit the criteria of the route. Aircraft selection is paramount and we know how adept we are at that. The 19 to 70 seater segments would be vital in such a scenario and most of them would be turboprops because they consume less fuel and lose only five minutes in the hour of flying.

Modi governments new aviation policy Flying for the masses is noble cause to espouse but its horizons away

Representational image. Reuters

After all that comes air safety and all round security, each of these a major enterprise in itself. Consequently, anything below 10 years is unrealistic to get such a scheme off the ground. And that is just for starters. Where are the training facilities to man these projects? When you consider that at present there is a shortage of wheelchairs at most of the 80 domestic airports and 12 international ones and no one has even taken up the matter you know how unrealistic such a grand operation is at present.

With most of the private carriers tanking financially, the government will be unable to impose limitations and caps on airlines that hardly break even. Add to that the fact that airfares are pretty much unregulated and peak sharply and arbitrarily in season with even low cost and budget carriers belying their raison d’etre by upping the ante by as much as 300 percent and you wonder how the Rs 2,500 cap will work. At times passengers have a right to feel they are being cheated and exploited. Again, much will depend on the cost of fuel at that time and if that spikes then a government order for such a cap will not be worth the paper it is written on.

Flying is a commercial business, not a charity, even if the cheating element often sticks in the public throat. We saw what government control did to Air India. Imposing a limitation on pricing because it is populist calls for a major subsidy and 2 percent levies are unlikely to cut the mustard.

No one can cavil over the fact that creating regional hub and spokes is a worthy enterprise if properly planned. If there was a mission statement it would be that regional airlines stimulate the social and economic development of regional communities and provide essential communications.

The statement by Civil Aviation Secretary RN Choubey is disingenuous. “The mandate from the Prime Minister was to bring out a policy which will make it possible for the masses to fly. That is the message which we set out to work with.”

The policy will be put up for public consultations for a period of three weeks.

I have no clue what great insight these three weeks will bring and what public is being harnessed for opinion. It sounds infantile.

This data will then go into the preparation of a draft note...a worrying factor in itself. Public inputs cannot make the grade. Period.

At this moment, the proposal is all too nascent and more in the realm of good intentions rather than practicality. There is not enough to work with. One can only hope that each step of the 100 new non-metro airport network and the capped costs work in tandem and with a time-bound schedule or else this will stay at being merely an announcement.

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