Among the major airports scheduled to begin operations soon, New Delhi’s Noida International Airport will relieve congestion at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. Expected to welcome its first commercial flights late in 2024, Noida International’s management has recently upgraded expected initial passenger numbers from 4.1 million to 6.5 million due to the rapid expansion of India’s air travel sector and the enormous new aircraft orders from Air India and budget operator Indigo. A rapid, elevated rail link is planned to slash travel time between city centre and airport to 60 minutes.
With an anticipated opening date of early 2025, Navi Mumbai International Airport will take some of the pressure off the city’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport. Located in a planned city on the eastern side of the harbour from Mumbai, Navi Mumbai expects to commence operations with two phases of the four-stage project complete, allowing it to handle 25 million passengers annually. Upon completion the airport will have an annual capacity of 90 million passengers, making it one of the world’s busiest airports.
India’s airlines expand
Budget carrier IndiGo has a fleet of 319 aircraft, all narrow-body Airbus apart from a handful of ATR72s and three Boeing 777-300ERs, however the first deliveries of the 500 new aircraft ordered from Airbus will not happen until the end of the decade.
From its New Delhi hub the airline operates an extensive domestic network and international flights to Bangkok, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. Its domination is set to be challenged by Air India Express, the low-cost offspring of Air India, currently with a fleet of just 26 aircraft but set for massive growth when it takes delivery of the 190 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft which Air India ordered during the 2023 Paris Air Show.
Vistara is a joint venture between Tata Sons Private Limited and Singapore Airlines. It’s the pick of India’s carriers, with a far-reaching domestic network and international services to Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. A merger with Air India is projected, at which time Singapore Airlines will have a 25 per cent stake in Air India.
In January 2022 the Indian Government sold Air India to the Tata group, a vast conglomerate which makes everything from tea to steel, cars, most of the trucks and buses on India’s roads, operates power stations, builds houses and telecommunications systems and employs a workforce of more than a million.
Under Tata ownership Air India has spent billions of dollars to upgrade its fleet, revitalise customer services and expand its domestic and international networks, but turning around a lacklustre, dysfunctional airline has been challenging. Just one example, in the 18 months following the Tata takeover, 40 per cent of the seats on its aircraft, 99 per cent of in-flight entertainment screens in business class and first class and 90 per cent in economy seats have been repaired or replaced. Air India has committed over $US400 million for new interiors for its entire legacy widebody fleet of Boeing 787-8s and Boeing 777 aircraft.
What’s in it for Australian travellers?
According to the latest census results, almost 700,000 people living in Australia in 2021 were born in India. Add to that the number of children living in Australia who have one or more parents born in India and the total is well over a million Australian residents. For that population the ties to India are strong and visits to their ancestral homeland are a high priority, ensuring strong demand for air travel between our countries.
For Australians without such ties, the increasing availability of non-stop flights adds the airline hub cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru to the list of potential destinations, as well as the possibility of using India as a convenient stopover on flights between Australia and Europe. Finally, more competition helps lower air travel prices, and that’s what’s needed right now.