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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2007, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Sky's the limit for India flight boom
By Damian Grammaticas
BBC News, Delhi

Airplane on tarmac
India's low-cost flight market will be huge, say analysts

India is now the fastest growing aviation market in the world.

A rapidly expanding economy, incredibly cheap fares and bullish new airlines are all driving the growth.

Hundreds of new aircraft are being ordered and airports like Delhi are planning to handle up to 100 million passengers a year, more than any airport in the world does today.

On the tarmac at Delhi's International Airport you can see the change happening.

The air is filled with the roar of jet engines as new airliners land, disgorge their passengers, then head off on their next trip.

India is accelerating quickly after years of inertia. The potential is huge
Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation report

Fuel trucks and baggage trolleys trundle purposefully to and fro. A dark haze hangs in the sky turning the setting sun into a soft, red disc.

In the terminals check-in counters are swamped by passengers.

At the ticket offices people clamour for seats, trying to snap up some of the cheapest fares in the world.


According to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa), passenger numbers are growing faster in India than anywhere else.

Kingfisher boss Vijay Mallya (left) Airbus Industrie's John Leahy at Delhi airport
Vijay Mallya has big plans for his Kingfisher airline

In the six months to September last year the number of people carried by airlines in India leapt 45% compared with 2005.

"India is accelerating quickly after years of inertia. The potential is huge," a recent report by Capa says. "Managed correctly, India stands poised as one of the most exciting aviation markets in the world."

Posing on the tarmac this week, surrounded by photographers and news cameramen was one of the new airline tycoons with big ambitions.

Vijay Mallya was standing in front of an Airbus A380 superjumbo.

He has ordered five for his company Kingfisher Airlines, with an option to buy five more. Kingfisher is less than two years old, and not even making a profit yet.

"With the five airplanes we've ordered we intend to launch daily services between Delhi and New York and Bombay and New York," Mr Mallya says.

Kapil Kaul, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation
This is all a combination of the economy doing very well and people having money to spend
Kapil Kaul,
Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation

"I've publicly stated that by 2010 we aim to be India's largest airline. We're on track to achieve that."

Just four years ago, before India liberalised aviation, there were only three main domestic airlines. Today there are around a dozen, among them aggressive budget carriers fighting for passengers.

None are making money yet, but 500 new aircraft are on order, and 2,000 new pilots will have to be hired.

The country's economic boom is what lies behind the growth. People have money to spend. And tickets on many routes start at less than $1 each.

Kapil Kaul, Capa's chief executive for India and the Middle East, believes that for the next 20 years India will be the world's fastest growing aviation market.

"This is all a combination of the economy doing very well and people having money to spend on travel which is what is creating this unbelievable kind of euphoria about aviation in India," he says. "And on the other side the fares are ridiculously low."

Environmental concerns

Today Delhi airport sees up to 20 million passengers a year. The busiest airport in the world is Atlanta with 84 million.

Passengers at Delhi airport
India has a host of new, low-cost airlines

But India's capital has begun a massive expansion programme, planning for 100 million passengers by 2030.

Few of those flying today, though, know what all this will mean in terms of pollution and carbon emissions.

"I'm not thinking about all that right now," said Anita Gupta as she arrived to catch her flight to Mumbai.

"How it impacts the environment is difficult to grasp," added Anjali, as she queued at the security gate.

Danesh, a businessman, was the only person we found who was concerned.

"All these additional planes being added to the system, and the fuel being emitted, causing more warming is very hazardous," he said, "but I am still flying because I have to for my job."

For now, India's priority is a massive programme of building: half a dozen new international airport terminals, new runways, new infrastructure.

Worrying about the environmental cost will come later.

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