Breaking News: How Air India managed to grab its highest domestic passenger traffic ever

As the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) declared in the summary of January 2024, not much changed in terms of standing in Indian aviation. Yet the details were significant on more than one count. Air India, a Tata company, carried 15.97 lakh domestic passengers making it the best-ever month in the history of the airline. 

The airline first crossed the 10 lakh domestic passengers per month mark in October 2014. In the same month, IndiGo carried 18.9 lakh domestic passengers. IndiGo ferried 79.09 lakh domestic passengers in January 2024, while Air India went on to its highest-ever number of 15.97 lakh. Air India has been stuck in decision paralysis for a long time.

The airline has also recorded its highest-ever market share since privatisation. The last high was in the middle of the second wave of COVID in May 2021, when the airline’s market share suddenly zoomed to cross 20 per cent. The period from March 2020 to the end of 2022 was largely an aberration with traffic dependent on the rise and decline of COVID cases and not the true sense of the market dynamics or seasonality.

ALSO READ: Domestic air traffic up 4.7% in January

How did Air India make it to 15.97 lakh?

Over the last few months, the airline has been inducting aircraft steadily. While the initial ones were on the ground for a very long period due to a shortage of interiors, the later ones had these issues sorted out and were deployed to operations early. The recently inducted A320neo family aircraft are being configured in mono class (all economy) leading to more passengers being catered.

Additionally, the airline deployed its first A350 into service starting January 22. With 316 seats, operating six sectors a day in addition to existing flights saw more capacity being deployed.

ALSO READ: Air India ordered to pay 2 lakh to four passengers for multiple flight delays

While the air traffic went up by 4.69 per cent compared to last January, the traffic was down 4.9 per cent sequentially i.e. over the previous month. Every airline carried fewer passengers in January 2024 over December 2023, except Air India – which carried 53,000 more passengers. While on an average the degrowth was 4.9 per cent, it was the highest for IndiGo at a little over 7 per cent – largely driven by the sudden drop in capacity owing to the issues with Pratt & Whitney powered A320neo family aircraft leading to groundings.

ALSO READ: India air passenger traffic up 47% in 2022

Market share target within reach

In September 2022, the airline unveiled its plan named ‘Vihaan.AI’ where it laid out its ambition to garner a 30 per cent market share in India within five years. It was clear then that the merger with Vistara was on the cards, since standalone, the airline had an 8 per cent market share. Together with Air India Express, AirAsia India and Vistara, the share loomed just north of 20 per cent.

ALSO READ: India air passenger traffic hits record 13 million in March

The first month of 2024 has seen that market share reach 28.2 per cent, shy by 1.8 per cent as a group. Market share is a function of capacity, considering how closely the load factors of all airlines are in the country. With additional widebody aircraft being deployed by the airline and Air India Express adding capacity, the target of 30 per cent as a group will look achievable by the end of summer. It will be a major boost for the morale of the organisation; though it is not under a single Air Operating Certificate, it is under the same owner, in full (Air India, Air India Express, AIX Connect) or part (Vistara).

ALSO READ: Air India fined 10 lakh by DGCA for failing to comply with CAR rules

On-Time Performance (OTP) has gone for a toss

Air India’s OTP at the top four metro airports in India stood at a meagre 47.6 per cent in January, better only than SpiceJet. The month was hit by a rarely seen fog in Delhi – the largest hub for the airline and also its main international gateway. Yet, January was not the only month when Air India OTP was not top-notch. Compare that to the second half of 2022, when the newly acquired airline put a special focus on OTP, driving it to the top of the charts.

The airline talked about improving block times, ground times, having an SOP in place for the first wave of departures and inter-departmental coordination. While all the departments may be under the same roof now, the OTP instead of going through the roof is going in the opposite direction.

February has not been any different for Air India with the OTP struggling to cross 60% on most days so far. With the weather having stabilised and other airlines managing the OTP well, Air India has to focus inwards to improve its performance. More passengers is good news but bad operations at the same time means more passengers are subjected to delays and that means bad publicity, which does not bode well.

For now, it is time to bask in the glory and something which will become a new record with every passing month going by the capacity being inducted.


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Published: 16 Feb 2024, 03:39 PM IST

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