After the liberalization of Indian Economy in 1990s, many airlines started their operations in India. Earlier, there was the monopoly of Indian Airlines on domestic routes, but in 1993, launch of Jet Airways and Air Sahara was a significant event in the history of Indian Aviation Sector. Post-liberisation, Indian aviation sector experienced a phenomenal growth and many other airlines started their operations, but years later, due to the highly competitive aviation sector, many of those airlines either merged with the another one or closed their operations and exited from this business.But still, Indian domestic market remains a playground of at least six major airlines that include Air India Limited, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines (fate unknown!), IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir. This post will give you a brief idea on these 6 airlines operating in the domestic sector of India.
Domestic Airlines can be divided in two categories based on their operations strategy and in-flight facilities:
1. Full Service Carriers: These are the major traditional airlines, who operate from decades worldwide. They have basically 2-3 categories of seating configuration in the planes like First Class, Business Class and Economy Class. They provide on-board meals, tea, water etc. They basically do not charge fees for amenities such as baggage, carry-on luggage, booking charges etc. Their ticket prices are generally high.
There are three major full service-carriers in India: Air India Limited, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines
i. Air India Limited: The oldest airlines in India have seen many ups and downs in its 80 years old legacy. Started by legendary J.R.D.Tata as Tata Airlines, this airlines became the national carrier of India. Present days Air India Limited is basically the combination of four entities Air India, Indian Airlines, Air India Express and Air India Regional. Air India primarily serves the international routes, while Indian Airlines mainly focus on domestic sector along with some operations in Middle East as well as in South East Asia. Air India Express is a low-cost airlines and primarily operates from the state of Tamilnadu and Kerala to Middle East and South East Asia. Air India regional is a network of small planes like ATR and CRJ and mainly fly to tier-2 ad teir-3 cities. Earlier, all these airlines either existed independently or in form of subsidiaries, but now they all merged in to a single entity known as Air India Limited.
Once, Air India was the name of comfort and style in the sky due to its on-time performances and excellent in-flight services. But, when new players entered in the domestic sector and competition increased, this airline lost its old charm. In the first decade of this century, when central government merged domestic carrier Indian Airlines and international carrier Air India to form a single company, situation became more problematic. Once the market leader in India with 100 % share is now placed at fourth position with approximately 19.3 % share. The airline mainly serves nearly 65 domestic destinations within India.
Due to its poor financial health and repeated strikes by pilots, airline is unable to perform satisfactorily and thus, it is no more a customer’s first choice, however being a full service carrier, airline still offers excellent in-flight services on board, but at least you can not expect on-time performances now. With the purchase of the brand new B-787 Dreamliner, (fifth in the world to operate this plane), Air India is expected to regain its old glory. But now everything lies ahead in the lap of future and we can only wait for this transformation.
ii. Jet Airways: After the liberalization of Indian Economy in 1993, two new airlines, Jet Airways and Air Sahara entered in the domestic market. 15 years later, in 2008, Air Sahara was acquired by Jet Airways and renamed as JetLite. Now Jet Airways and JetLite together share 23.8 % of the domestic market in India and this airline remained the market leader in Indian Domestic Sector for many years until recently toppled by Indigo to number 2 spot. From the beginning of its operations, this airline remained the hot choice of customers due to its excellent on-time performances and in-flight services. It is basically a full-service carrier, but also offers low-cost services under the name of JetKonnect. The airline serves approximately 52 destinations within India.
iii. Kingfisher Airlines: When The King of Good Times, liquor barren, Vijay Mallya, gifted this airline to his son on his 18th birthday as a birthday gift in 2005, it was deemed that the passengers would fly in the sky with a style. For next six years, it indeed treated its customers in style. Even the airlines served on-board meals on its low-cost wing Kingfisher Red, against the trend. But then, the dream collapsed somewhere in the sky and today, the aviation regulator has cancelled the flying license of the Kingfisher Airlines. Due to its poor financial health, the airline is unable to pay its dues to the banks and salaries to the employees and despite of repeated assurance from Mr. Mallya, its fate is still in the dark.
From the beginning of its operations, this airline never came under profit. But the bad day started from 2007, when two years old Kingfisher Airlines acquired four years old Air Deccan, so that it could fulfill the criteria of five years of domestic operations to start its operations on international routes. It renamed Air Deccan as Kingfisher Red and promoted it as a low cost airlines. Soon, this low-cost airline deviated from the path of low-cost and started offering in-flight luxuries to its passengers in the form of on-board meal and in-flight entertainment. Kingfisher was the first Indian airline to have in-flight entertainment systems on every seat even on domestic flights. These factors increased operating cost of airline and then the bubble burst. Once the Indian answer of Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is now struggling for its survival.
2. Low-Cost Carriers: These airlines only offer a flight from one point to another point. They do not offer any in-flight services, even you have to buy a bottle of water in some airlines. They charge extra for check-in baggage and other related services. But, this model of airlines operations is growing stronger day by day and low-cost carriers are now the major share-holder of the domestic market.
There are three major low cost carriers in India: IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir
i. IndiGo: Last entrant of the Indian market is now the market leader. This airline is known for the best on-time performance in the market. Since commencing its operations in 2006, airline performed consistently to reach the number one position in the domestic market with the market share of 27.2 %. In fact, it is only profit-making airlines in India. IndiGo’s strong adherence to the low cost model, buying only one type of aircraft to keep lower maintenance and training costs and keeping operational costs as low as possible along with heavy emphasis on punctuality are said to be some of the reasons for its success even when the airline industry in India is currently going through a bad patch. After completing five years of domestic operations, airlines received the license for international operations and now operates to international destinations like Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok, Kathmandu etc.
There are no business or first classes available inside an IndiGo’s aircraft. They only offer economy class seats without in-flight entertainment systems. To keep fare affordable, IndiGo operates without costly frills or complimentary meals on-board, but if you need these items in flight, you can always purchase them on-board. It has fleet of newly acquired A320s, which provide a pleasant flying experience to the passengers. Airline currently operates to 33 destinations in India and abroad with its main hub at Delhi International Airport.
5. SpiceJet: This airline started its operation in May 2005 and now became the third airlines in terms of market share (18.5%) behind IndiGo and Jet Airways. This airline operates on nearly 40 domestic routes and international destinations including Dubai, Kathmandu and Colombo. Recently, it acquired new Bombardier Q-400 to serves the smaller routes to tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Airline’s headquarter is in Chennai with its major hub at Delhi and Hyderabad airport. Majority of stake in the airline is owned by Kalanidhi Maran.
The price policy of SpiceJet is usually very dynamic, with discounts and tickets in promotion. As many as ten percent of the seats on any flight are offered at the lowest price, and are the first to sell. The prices steadily rise thereafter to a point where they can be comparable or more expensive than a flight on a full-service carrier like Air India. Often, no in-flight entertainment systems are made available.
6. GoAir: Promoted by Mumbai-based Wadia group, this is the smallest airline in terms of market share with 7.6 % (but ahead of Kingfisher now). Its main hub at Mumbai International airport and it serves to 22 cities with 92 daily flights. It is only passenger airline in India, which does not operate on international route.
Being a no-frills airline, GoAir does not offer a complimentary meal service to its passengers. However, you are free to buy available on-board meals, cookies, soft drinks, mineral water and beverages. Other duty free products are also available on board.
A special mention here is the Blue Dart, which is India’s largest domestic cargo airlines.
Blue Dart: The largest operating domestic cargo airlines in India is now a part of DHL Express. It is based in Chennai and operates scheduled night express cargo flights to 7 domestic destinations including. It also has an in-house maintenance capability and provides aircraft maintenance and engineering support to other airlines.
With the presence of so many airlines in the domestic market, competition increases and pressure also increases to reduce the air fare to attract more and more customers. With the induction of low-cost airlines, air tickets became more cheaper and flights became more affordable to a common man of India. This created a new travel culture in India beyond the typical LTC holiday or Char Dham Yatra. With the boom in aviation sector, another boom came in the travel industry of India. Online travel companies like MakeMyTrip India that offers various services like online travel bookings, online hotel bookings and other travel related assistance to its customers, also saw a tremendous growth. With the increase of internet users in India, these companies allow their customers to book air tickets online from the home with a great convenience. They also assist their customers to find the best available air fare in the market depending on the various search criteria. Now, anybody can search the best and cheapest available air fare in the market and realize his dream of backpacking across the world.