Event Reports

Indian civil aviation industry at crossroads: Former DGCA chief

The civil aviation sector can create lots of jobs — India can expect four million people to be employed by the industry, by 2030.

Civil Aviation
Civil Aviation
Photolabs@ORF
2018
Mar
05

“The civil aviation industry in India is at the crossroads,” remarked M.R. Sivaraman, former Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), aircraft financing, IAS (retd), while initiating Observer Research Foundation, Chennai’s interaction on 17 February 2018.

Reflecting on the civil aviation sector, both in India and the world over, Sivaraman said the country today is among the largest civil aviation markets and it is set to replace the UK by the year 2026. In 2017, India recorded air traffic of 278 million passengers, of which 100 million were domestic passengers.

While great strides had visibly been made, the civil aviation now finds itself at a crossroads with several issues that need to be urgently addressed, Sivaraman said.

In this context, he said airport expansion was a must. Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and Goa airports are all set to expand, while work in Delhi has already begun. The Chennai airport is in a sorry state of affairs. The terminals are bursting at the seams with about 30,000 passengers travelling every day. Expansion is crucially needed here, he said.

He said the central government is also looking to open 100 new airports. Of these, 70 are to be in locations that don’t have an airport, while the rest will be second airports or include expansion of existing airfields.

Doubling in six years

In India, Sivaraman noted, every six years, the number of passengers are likely to double. This meant that more Air Traffic Controller (ATC) personnel would be needed, which in turn would require large training centres. He empathised with the responsibilities of ATC personnel, whose jobs are extremely stressful. “Training is vitally important,” he said.

Aircraft growth is also required. Sivaraman pointed out that aircraft financing has always a problem. Few airlines purchased aircraft outright. Airline firms usually go for leasing and double leasing of aircraft, which had its own problems. More aircrafts will also need more flights and more cabin crew, as well as more pilots. Sivaraman calculated that India may require 12,000 more pilots to meet future demands.

India is short of not only pilots, but also good engineers. The DGCA itself is worryingly understaffed and this needs to be addressed urgently, Sivaraman said. Expansion of the DGCA is crucial, but the government’s plans in this area remained unclear, he said.

Sivaraman noted that the civil aviation sector can create lots of jobs. In his estimation, India could expect four million people to be employed by the industry by the year 2030.

Responding to a question about the impact of automation on job creation, Sivaraman felt that, while many things were being computerised, their impact on the prospects for employment appears to be very little.

This is because security was and would continue to be, always, a big concern for civil aviation, and it is impossible to eliminate personnel in this regard. While the entire control room may be computerised, he maintained you would still need a person in that room. Ground handling, which included jobs such as fuelling of the aircraft, were extremely complicated processes and it required personnel to check and recheck them.

Air-worthiness essential

Referring to aircraft safety, Sivaraman was vociferous in stating that air-worthiness was absolutely essential and it could not be compromised in any way. The near mid-air collision over Mumbai’s airspace, between a Vistara aircraft and an Air India plane, as well as the Russian Saratov Flight 703 which crashed with 71 passengers on board, were among those few incidents that caused serious concern. He further pointed out that most incidents were related to pilot error and not to do with the aircraft.

However, Sivaraman believes strongly that aircrafts no more than 20 years old should be allowed to fly.

Pollution concern

Pollution is a very important area for the civil aviation industry. This would become a serious concern in the future as more aircrafts mean more pollution. Sivaraman said improving fuel efficiency was something the industry was devotedly focussed on. When outlining the progress of fuel efficiency, he explained this was sometimes calculated on the basis of a bypass ratio, which is the term for the proportion of air sucked through the engine’s fan to the proportion that also goes through the turbine at its core.

Looking at the future, Sivaraman said modernisation and financing would remain the key areas to focus on as these would be the major constraints on the future of civil aviation in India. He lamented that the promotion of aviation sports was missing in India.


This report is prepared by Dr. Vinitha Revi, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.