The year 2018 was a mixed year for aviation industry in India with many highs and some lows. The year 2019 promises to be an exciting, yet uncertain year for the sector that has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries in the country during the last three years. Driving the change are the revised regulatory framework combined with cutting-edge tech initiatives such as biometric self-boarding, in-flight connectivity, introduction of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Analytics and Robotics. However, the volatility in the airline market, driven by a range of factors, including aviation fuel pricing and yield economics could prove to be detrimental, if not addressed in timely fashion through policy changes.
Here we list out eight X factors that could prove key for the growth of aviation sector in India.
* Regulatory changes: Recent changes in aviation regulation will continue to aid the growth of Indian airport infrastructure development, especially in Tier-II and Tier-III cities. The proposed model of development for the six regional airports along with investment in the Jewar Airport and the broader roll-out of the RCS/ UDAN scheme will allow more people to fly than ever before in 2019. What we need is the greater integration of these schemes with urban transportation corridors to allow for public transport access to these airports.
* Emergence of Biometrics: Travellers can expect to see greater use of biometrics, such as facial recognition to enter airports, at processing points (check-in, bag-drop, security, and immigration) in 2019 and from an Indian context this is going to be the single biggest game changer with Digi Yatra rolled out.
* Increased customisation: Travellers will have more options than ever before both at the airport and on-board airlines to customise their flight experience in 2019 and obviously, premium customers will see the better side of customised travel.
* Greater passenger visibility of checked-baggage: Newer baggage protocols will continue to increase passengers’ visibility and control over checked luggage in 2019. Building on last year’s efforts, legislation requiring airlines to track bags at four key points (passenger handover to airline, at aircraft loading, delivery to transfer area, and upon return to passenger), airports will increasingly move towards RFID or other NFTs, rather than paper tags, to track luggage. Over time, this should mean less queuing and stress for passengers, who will increasingly track their bags via an app on their smartphone.
* Commercial usage of drones: There will be tighter regulation on the commercial use of drones especially from a safety and noise perspective, but 2019 will see greater use of drones for commercial purposes including for cargo delivery and limited passenger services in trials.
* Evolution of digital transformation: Digital transformation will continue to drive change across the travel and transportation industry with the increasing business use of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data analytics and robotics. We are moving towards a world of predictive behaviour and these digital trends coupled with advances in facial recognition, biometrics and the spread of WiFi and NFTs across India will drive customisation even faster.
* Inflight connectivity: The Telecom Commission has approved the proposal by the Department of Telecommunications to allow calls and internet services on aircraft above Indian airspace.
This will allow passengers to make phone calls and browse the internet above cruising altitudes. While this is a welcome move from a data perspective, the idea of being inside a closed tube with various people making phone calls, is less appealing. How to strike a balance?
* Volatility of fuel, yield economics: The volatility of fuel costs is going to impact both the profitability of airlines as well as customer costs.
As airlines in recent years benefited from low fuel prices, which bottomed out in early 2016, they were able to price tickets more competitively.
However, crude oil prices fluctuated widely this year and are impacted by major duties in India – so expect to see more uncertainty, given some of the global political challenges.
In India, this will have a major effect on domestic carriers and profitability, so don’t rule out some consolidation in the airline industry (as we’re seeing in the case of Jet Airways).
(The writer is Chief Strategy and Development Officer, BIAL)