By Shivaji Dasgupta
Campbell Wilson, CEO and MD of Air India, is ambitious for a 30% market share of both the domestic and international markets. According to statista.com, the domestic market share of Air India, when merged with Vistara and Air Asia India, would already hover around 24%. In international terms, the figure is around 12%, in the context of an overall 20 % market share of Indian carriers. Due to a combination of demographic, geographic and economic reasons, Air India enjoys an unfair head start over even the most seasoned competition, currently under-exploited.
With 147 functional airports and a passenger growth anywhere between 35-45 % annually, India is today the third largest domestic aviation market in the world, after the USA and China. Air India’s firm equipment orders include 400 single-aisle jets ( B737 Max and the Airbus A320/321 family) which are workhorses for local and short regional routes.
Domestic aviation markets are less susceptible to catastrophic or distressing global developments — like pandemics, wars or economic downturns. Thus, Air India is assured of reasonable revenue stability independent of international traffic, unlike market leaders like Singapore Airlines or the Gulf carriers. Also, Frequent Flyer programmes can become an organic source for international preference.
The second underrated factor is to do with hub traffic, currently the selling point of the leaders. For passengers travelling between Australia and the UK or the USA ( transatlantic), India is a natural intermission, as good as Thai and surely less skewed than Gulf stopovers. Singapore has a definite issue with disproportionate legs ( time-wise) for those seeking South East Asian destinations from Europe, just as Dubai has with those in reverse traffic mode. So far, we have not invested in the hub vision sufficiently.
The enthralling potential of India as a business and tourist destination-cum-source is another significant evidence. Now with 70 new wide bodied aircrafts ( A350, B 777 and B787 series) as well as a significant refurbishment programme of existing fleet, Air India’s equipment will be state of art. As economies open up further and affluence increases, more Indians will travel abroad for work and leisure while more foreigners will visit the country. Only China can compare as an attraction
magnet but our democratic foundation makes this pattern most sustainable.
US carriers also enjoy the domestic traffic advantage but North America is not a global hub for Asia-centric growth. Chinese carriers don’t have brand credibility and the walls impeding free flowing travel haven’t been broken. What we need now is world class management and an urgent resurgence of a compelling service culture, rendered in a new-age professional Indian style like hotels.
One more thing that will certainly help is the revitalised brand magic of the Maharajah, way ahead of its time in its time, and now a much-welcome booster. To build a meaningful umbrella of love over a carrier which finally means business.
The author is an autonomous brand consultant and writer