The aviation industry is expanding but the number of wide-bodied aircraft has shrunk from 63 out of a total aircraft strength of 614 in 2018 to 43 — a development, which experts say, is out of sync with the global norm in which wide-bodied planes make up 20 per cent of an airline’s fleet.
In India, the share of these planes is only 7 per cent, down from over 10 per cent in the beginning of this year. Without these planes, which have more space and can carry more fuel, airlines cannot offer a comfortable experience on medium- or long-haul flights or carry a larger number of passengers.
The collapse of Jet Airways has everything to do with the falling number of wide-bodied aircraft. “You cannot have a shrinking wide-bodied market in a country where aviation is growing. We see a large opportunity in this space where now we only have Air India operating,” says Vikram Rai, country head, GE Aviation in India which has virtual monopoly in the wide-bodied engine market.
GE and CFM, which is a joint venture with Safran Aircraft Engines, has over 300 narrow-bodied and 40 wide-bodied engines in operation in India. It is a key player with current orders of 800 narrow-bodied and six wide-bodied engines.
Despite the overall slowdown, airlines are doing well with passenger growth in both the domestic and international market. The airlines have managed, within a few months, to add enough new capacity to more than fill the void left by Jet’s extinction in April.
The industry needs to add 80 more wide-bodied aircraft to reach the global average. In India, in 2018-19, there were 344 million passengers, of which 68-70 million were outbound, which is 20 per cent, say estimates. Without a sufficient number of such planes for these medium- and long-haul flights, Indian carriers are being displaced by global carriers whose share of outbound international traffic on the medium and long-haul routes is going up. It is estimated the US and UK together constituted for over 7 per cent of outbound international traffic and if the whole of Europe is added, this share goes up to around 15 per cent.
The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in a report said in FY 19, the total number of seats in Europe and India grew to 5.1 million, an increase of 13 per cent, primarily led by Jet. After its collapse, analysts say the bulk of the seats went to foreign carriers. GE’s Rai says he is in talks with all major carriers to push them to buy wide-bodied aircraft. But it can take 24-36 months for delivery of an aircraft even if orders are given now. Most low-cost carriers prefer to use their narrow-bodied aircraft to fly overseas. Vistara has been the only firm which has ordered six wide-bodied aircraft powered by GE engines.
As Rai points out, the bigger planes need not be confined to medium- and long-haul flights, they can also be used for domestic flights. “We are explaining to airlines where airports suffer from a shortage of slots and where there is huge demand, it makes economic sense. Also, someone can have a low-cost carrier of wide-bodied aircraft,” says Rai.