Despite the host of advantages that business and general aviation (BA/GA) has to offer, this segment of the industry has not received the required attention of the departments under the Government
Data available in the public domain indicates that over the last three years, the civil aviation industry in India has registered a rapid growth that has propelled the nation to the status of being the third largest domestic aviation market in the world behind the United States and China. There is adequate evidence to show that the civil aviation segment has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries in the country and has the capability to grow even further. The Indian civil aviation industry has the potential to beat even the United Kingdom in the race for the air passenger market by the year 2024 and emerge as a major player in the world in this segment of the industry.
The Indian civil aviation industry came into being in 1932 with the launch of the country’s first airline that was in the private sector. The credit for this achievement is attributed to business tycoon JRD Tata who established Tata Air Services that was as an airmail carrier within India. The airline undertook its inaugural flight in October 1932, flying from Karachi to Mumbai. By 1938, the airline was renamed as Tata Airlines and by then, was operating domestic flights to a number of destinations. In 1947, Tata Airways was renamed as Air India with the Government of India holding 49 per cent stake in the airline. Air India carried out its maiden international flight in 1948, flying from Mumbai to London on a Lockheed Constellation. By the 1950s, the Indian airline industry had a number of smaller airlines established in the private sector and operating in different parts of the country. Air India however, remained the national carrier that continued to operate on multiple domestic and international routes. In 1953, the Government of India nationalised the Indian airline industry and took over control of all major airlines. This resulted in the eight major airlines being merged into two airlines under the Government namely Air India and Indian Airlines. However, several decades after the Government took over control of the airlines, things have finally reverted to the situation that was prevailing prior to 1953. Today, there are a number of private carriers dominating the Indian airline industry and the national carrier is back with the Tatas as the largest airline in the private sector in the Indian airline industry.
The history of business and general aviation is perhaps as old as the origin of aviation itself. In India, the growth in this segment of the civil aviation industry has been driven to a large extent by the strong economic growth the country has witnessed in recent times. This segment of the civil aviation industry, unlike the airline industry, was not adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Air travel that earlier on was considered as a luxury and was available to only he privileged few, is not subject to these restriction any more. There has been considerable change in perceptions and this segment of the Indian civil aviation industry is seen as offering a number of benefits to air travellers. Business and general aviation offers higher levels of convenience, comfort and reliability as compared to other modes of transportation thus rendering higher levels of cost of travel as less relevant. Despite the host of advantages that business and general aviation has to offer, this segment of the industry has not received the attention of the departments under the Government that it should have.
Firstly, the infrastructure related to operation of aircraft developed in the country so far has not catered adequately for the requirements of the business and general aircraft operating out of civil airports. On account of the several different types of business and general aircraft operating in the country, the requirement of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities also has not been met with. This compels operators of business and general aviation aircraft to depend on MRO facilities in neighbouring countries that in all likelihood, would be available at higher cost. Like several other sectors of business in the country, the business and general aviation sector suffers from issues related to the taxation policy of the Government. There is undoubtedly the requirement to rationalise and simplify the tax regime to make it less cumbersome for the owners of aircraft. This step by the Government would assist in promoting the growth of the industry, encourage leasing activity and allow seamless transfer of assets within the country. One major financial burden that operators of business and general aviation aircraft have to carry is the high level of ground handling fees levied by the airport. For Indira Gandhi International Airport at New Delhi, these charges have recently been hiked by as much as 60 per cent imposing a severe financial burden to the operator of business and general aviation aircraft.
Given the strategic importance of the business and general aviation sector for the economic and other vital interests of the nation, there is undoubtedly the need for the Government to review and restructure policies related to the business and general aviation segment of the Indian civil aviation industry to boost its growth.