On Friday, India’s civil aviation minister urged Indian airlines to add more long-haul aircraft to their fleets and increase international flights as air travel recovers from a two-year slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Domestic passenger numbers are expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels within a year, according to Jyotiraditya Scindia, who spoke at an air show in the Indian city of Hyderabad.
However, foreign carriers dominate international routes to and from India, which industry experts attribute to a lack of widebody, long-haul planes among Indian carriers.
“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 narrowbody planes operated by low-cost carriers like IndiGo. In 2019, Indian airlines operated more than 550 narrowbody planes and less than 60 widebodies.
Only two Indian airlines fly to long-haul destinations – Air India, the former state-run carrier acquired by Tata Group, and Vistara, a venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata.
Middle Eastern, European and other carriers take the bulk of passengers from India leaving domestic airlines with a small share of the international market.
This is partly because Indian carriers do not have enough widebody 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.
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 planemaker projected India would need 2,210 new planes to meet growing air travel demand over the next two decades, with widebody planes accounting for 440 of them.
Airbus’ rival Boeing Co now dominates the widebody market in India.