'Aviation is a great success story of this government'
         Date: 28-May-2018
Exclusivity and inherent elite character have been the hallmarks of the aviation sector in Bharat. The Narendra Modi-led NDA Government is trying to transform it into an accessible and affordable experience for the common people. The man who is leading this process is the Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Jayant Sinha. In an exclusive interview with Organiser Editor Prafulla Ketkar and Correspondent Nishant Kumar Azad, Hon’ble Minister did a plain-talk on issues relating to the disinvestment of Air India, boosting regional connectivity through the UDAN scheme, and how his team is reversing the losses incurred to the aviation sector during the UPA regime.
 
 
 
 Interaction with Jayant Sinha 
 
The NDA Government is now in the fourth year of its office. How do you see the performance of the aviation sector?

Aviation is one of the great success stories of this government. Why I am saying this as a great success story is because of 3 reasons; there are three reasons: one, everybody is flying and flying has become very affordable and available to all. Two, it is connecting India in a very dramatic way and three, it has become an economy driver because of its high multiplier effect.

In the past four years, the Aviation sector has boomed with air traffic. The passenger trips have doubled from 100 million trips in 2013 to 200 million trips in 2017. At the same time flying in India is among the cheapest in the world. We have very high taxes on aviation turbine fuel. If you take out the taxes on fuel then we will be cheapest in the world in terms of airfare.

In terms of economic multiplier effect like Railways, aviation also now has a 6x multiplier effect on the economy. So right now more than 1.2 million people are engaged in the civil aviation sector. We have tremendous demand and so all the forecast says India will grow from 200 million passenger trips a year to more than a billion trips and aviation is going to be doubled over the course of next 15 to 20 years. All the changes we made to the national civil aviation policy to deregulate, open up and streamline the sector have really enabled us to sustain the growth.

When it comes to strategic situation, under the law, the government can ask any airline to give aircraft to solve the purpose. Let me tell you, private airlines have done these kinds of operations in the past
In an attempt to provide a major boost to regional air connectivity the Government had started ‘UDAN’ Scheme. What is the status of the scheme and how is it going to help regions like North-east? 

Now airlines are connecting India in a way nobody could have anticipated. When we came to power in 2014, there were about 72 operational airports. With Pakyong airport in Sikkim getting started in July, we will have 100 operational airports. While the governments in the past were adding an airport a year in the seventy-five years of civil aviation, we have already opened up twenty-five airports in the last two years as part of the UDAN regional connectivity scheme.

Connectivity to the north-east has now transformed. Connectivity to the Guwahati has dramatically improved and it has become a hub for the north-east. Guwahati and Agartala are getting beautiful new terminals soon and the design of these terminals is very much geared to the local art and culture. Aesthetically also, these are going to be the world leading terminals in future. We are in process to make Guwahati a real hub to be able to reach out the ASEAN countries. We have also provided a tremendous incentive for helicopter flying and many helipads have been awarded to handle helicopter operations under the scheme.

 
Quality of services, especially in the domestic sector, is still a concern. How are you going to address the issue?

We have been continuously improving the passenger experience. We are working on strengthening and enhancing the passenger rights related to the issues cancellation of tickets, flight delay and many more. We are trying to put passenger rights and responsibilities at par with the best of the world. We are implementing DigiYatra that aims to transform the flying experience for passengers. The ministry also launched AirSewa, a one-stop solution for hassle-free air travel. AirSewa app brings together all the stakeholders on a common platform to ensure timely and effective handling of customer grievances and to disseminate real-time data. We are also constantly in touch with the passengers through social media to address their grievances. We are working to fundamentally improve the system rather than fixing one thing to better the whole system.

 
 
While the governments in the past were adding an airport a year in the seventy-five years of civil aviation, we have already opened up twenty-five airports in the last two years as part of the UDAN regional connectivity scheme.
Do you think the time has come to have a more focused approach towards dynamic fare system especially when the Parliamentary Standing Committee has suggested to fix limits for airline tickets and cancellation charges?

Pricing mechanism for airlines is dynamic pricing and it is practiced all over the world. We want to be able to provide the lowest possible fare to an individual. It means the lowest price for barebone facilities, with middle seat, no food and minimum luggage allowance. You want to add something to this, you pay more for it. Of course, when you are booking your seat it is going to affect the pricing. Providing rock bottom prices to maximum number of passengers, unbundling of dynamic fare mechanism is essential. We will have to communicate this to the people. The Competition Commission of India is also monitoring any anti-competitive practices being adopted by the airlines. In a well regulated market mechanism, this is the only way you can run a successful industry.

 
A lot of Debate is going on about the privatization of Air India. Though it is a bold decision, Air India is showing a sign of revival under this Government. Then why disinvest?

It was important to take this strategic disinvestment decision of Air India. Behind this, there are multiple purposes. One, we want to make Air India, a great global airline that can be competitive and provide high-quality affordable services to the people. It’s very difficult to do that within the government framework.

Second, connectivity & affordability all that you require from aviation sector is already being provided through the private sector. 86 per cent of aviation sector is with private sector now. This is a mature, well-regulated and competitive sector and Government does not have a major strategic role to play in this industry.

Third, Air India was running at a tremendous loss since long and to manage that loss, the government has to invest a large amount of money into it. Now we can take that money that we save from putting into Air India will be spent into Midday meal, on defence, on healthcare sector and other important services for the public to be better applied.

I must say that there has been a tremendous operating turnaround in Air India in this government. It was in very bad shape and we managed it much better and we have taken a number of steps to improve its competitiveness but as I said we want to make it like any other great global airlines.

When it comes to strategic situation, a national mission, in times of national emergency, evacuating people or to handle a national disaster, under the law, the government can ask any airline to give aircraft to solve the purpose. Let me tell you, private airlines have done these kinds of operations in the past.

 
We are working to fundamentally improve the system rather than fixing one thing to better the whole system.

    What are the key goals for the remaining one year? Is there any area which you feel the Ministry could have done better?

Yes, we have a lot of work to do. Soon, the Ministry will come out with the drone policy by mid-June which is in the final stage. Apart from that, we are launching Digi Yatra' initiative to make flying simple. We also have to complete the strategic disinvestment of Air India. The Government is working on ‘NextGen Airports for Bharat (NABH) Nirman’ scheme to expand airport capacity more than five times a year under a new initiative. We also have to finalise unified security command with CISF which we are working on right now. A cabinet nod has prepared for it. So the initiatives are taken on multiple fronts and I am sure with a clear vision we will be able to show the results of this success story in the coming year as well.