by Sumaa Tekur
When it comes to flying high, Indians prefer to go private. In their choice of airline for domestic travel, Air India, the country’s government-owned official airline, is lowest on the preference list. It’s a seat in one of the private airlines that air travellers want to occupy.
In 2010, Air India flew its domestic operations with a 22% seat-load factor — a figure that’s abysmal when compared to the 84% seat occupancy for IndiGo or 82% for SpiceJet. The other carriers — Kingfisher with 75% and Jet Airways with 72% — did well, too. In 2010, Air India operated more than 9,000 flights at less than one-fourth capacity.
Meanwhile, the private airlines increasingly are training their business sights on Tier II and Tier III Indian cities to tap into the potentially lucrative semi-urban and rural markets. According to Airports Authority of India statistics, at least 10 Indian towns recorded passenger traffic of between 300 and 1,000 travellers between April and November 2010. The towns include Aurangabad, Dibrugarh, Bhopal, Leh, Madurai, Rajkot, Ranchi, Silchar, Tirupati and Udaipur (LiveMint.com, 24 February 2011).
Air India is one of the three full-service domestic carriers (the other two are Jet Airways and Kingfisher), and has also been focusing on expanding operations in Tier II and Tier III cities. The government-owned airline could play a role in providing better connection to non-metros, thereby increasing the percentage of Indian air travellers. After all, only 3% of Indians fly. And who knows, this way Indians might feel stronger pride for their country.