New Delhi: The air travel industry is one of the most severely affected business sectors by the onslaught of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most airlines are grounded since March 2020, especially the private carriers who thrive on tourism and business travel.
Billions of dollars of investment on state-of-the-art technology at airports and the latest aeroplane fleets, hi-tech terminal access, and other allied sectors of the industry have taken a huge blow.
Air Travellers Association (ATA), a body headed by aviation experts and frequent travellers, put their heads together on May 29, to analyse the current situation and deliberate strategies that could help the industry reading its 2019 growth trajectory.
The webinar was moderated by Dr Sanat Kaul, IAS (Retd) and Chairman International Foundation for Aviation, Aerospace & Drones; veterans of aviation trade and PR Guru Mr G.S. Bawa, former GM (PR) Airports Authority of India as ex-officio ATA took part in the same. The galaxy of panellists included aviation experts Mr Suresh Nair, GM Air Asia Group for India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal; Capt. Deepak Shastri, Airport Director Shirdi Airport, Former ED, AAI, and Dr BK. Singh, MBBS, DCH, DNB, Sr. Consultant, ex-Head Medanta Medical Centre, IGI Airport and ex-Major Army Medical Corps.
Mr PS Nair, former CEO, Delhi Airport and founder CEO of HIAL introduced the theme of the Webinar and gave an insight into the industry and the rosy picture that awaits the industry if the government acts in a manner that was left for the panellists to dwell upon during the webinar.
The high point of the 90-minute long webinar was the confidence of the veteran aviators in the restoration of air services soon, as soon as the pandemic subsides and passengers can step out of their homes. Most frequent leisure and business travellers and the VFR are keen to book their flights, domestic as well as international. Some speakers wanted Govt of India to put in some financial incentives to the Airports and Airlines and to protect the passengers from their already booked ticket money as well as to restore their confidence towards safe air travel.
Here's what the panellists suggested:
Mr Kaul felt containing the virus spread is essential and priority vaccination of air travellers and aviation industry staff is essential in reviving the sector.
“We have to check cabin spread and importation of the virus. The only way to keep things under control is immunisation. The ministry should ensure air travellers and airport staff get vaccination on priority. That will ensure that operations can resume as soon as possible. Reducing the importation risk from foreign travel and focus on contactless travelling. The passport should mention vaccination status,” added Mr Kaul.
Mr Nair said the government support is of utmost importance during these testing times. He also pointed out the precarious situation the industry is in and how every step has to be well thought out.
“From April onwards it has been catastrophic. Very uncertain future. Once the numbers of vaccinated people grow, I think the demand will return. Revival of demand and safety of passengers are two real issues facing the airline industry. Hopeful that the government will support the industry. If you increase the fares, the demand may further come down, but survival would be difficult if you don’t increase them. But with vaccination and the development of contactless travel technology things will improve,” Suresh Nair added.
Mr PS Nair feels that the industry will not only revive India but also may achieve its ambitious target of becoming the best in the world in the next 20 years. Mr Nair also quoted from Being’s report which had praised India’s utilisation of aircraft during the pandemic.
“The scenario will be different in the longer run. We will double the domestic travel by 2030 and we may even possibly achieve the no 1 position by 2035,” Mr PS Nair added.
Capt Shastri was of the opinion that air travel is still one of the safest modes of transport and brushed off any fears of the industry collapsing.
“Things are extremely uncertain and we have to just concentrate on how within the available means we can work and remain afloat and can exploit the revived situation whenever it comes. We have created additional fund resources to keep the industry afloat. Aviation is here to stay. As long as there is the advantage of speed comfort, aviation is no.1. Even now I can safely say, except for your car, this is the safest mode of transportation today,” added Capt Shastri.