Indian airlines urged to add more long-haul aircraft to expand international reach

Country's civil aviation minister says wide-body jets are needed to connect the world to India

Visitors gather next to an Airbus A350 aircraft on display during Wings India 2022, a civil aviation event organised by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, at Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad. AFP

India's civil aviation minister urged Indian airlines on Friday to add more long-haul aircraft to their fleets and to increase flights abroad, as air travel rebounds from a two-year slump due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Domestic passenger numbers are expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels within one year, Jyotiraditya Scindia said during an air show in the Indian city of Hyderabad.

But foreign airlines dominate international routes to and from India, which industry experts say is partly because Indian airlines do not have enough wide-body, long-haul planes.

“Along with our thrust on narrow-body aircraft, we must also increase our fleet of wide-body aircraft. It is not enough to connect all points in India — we need to connect the world to India,” the minister said.

India's aviation market is dominated by narrow-body planes operated by low-cost airlines such as IndiGo. In 2019, Indian airlines operated more than 550 narrow-body planes and less than 60 widebodies.

Only two Indian airlines fly to long-haul destinations — Air India, the former state-run airline acquired by Tata Group, and Vistara, a venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata.

Middle Eastern, European and other airlines ferry the bulk of passengers from India, leaving domestic airlines with a small share of the international market.

This is partly because Indian airlines do not have enough wide-body planes to compete, Remi Maillard, president and managing director at Airbus for India and South Asia, said at the air show, making a pitch for the Airbus A350 long-haul jet.

Mr Maillard said he expected long-haul travel from India to grow “massively” in the next decade, which would drive demand for bigger planes.

The European plane maker projected India would need 2,210 new planes to meet growing air travel demand over the next two decades, with wide-body planes accounting for 440 of them.

Airbus's rival Boeing now dominates the wide-body market in India.

Updated: March 26, 2022, 5:00 AM