Aviation will Ride the Economic Boom; India Ready to Become the Big Aviation Hub

What does this mean? It means we will organise a lot more jobs with one aircraft creating 100 new jobs, 600 related jobs, and these are ballpark numbers, but it shows to some extent what it would do for the larger economy. Today, in India we have around 750 aircraft on a population of 1.4 billion. Today, in China with a similar population, it has around 3500 aircraft.

I can see a lot of positive dynamics and a lot of positive elements for the Indian economy. And clearly there’s an incredible strong correlation between the development of the industry, the development of the country, and the aviation industry itself.

I come from a country where we were serving 150 destinations from a city of 1 million people. Today we are not serving that number out of India, so just imagine what is the potential for India going forward.

So, looking at the number of young people in the country, what that would mean for aviation speaks a lot of the potential. And if we look actually at a different number, it is even more surprising. Today, in India we have around 750 aircraft on a population of 1.4 billion. Today, in China with a similar population, it is around 3500 aircraft. Admittedly, the landmass in China is bigger than the landmass in India, but still it speaks of the level to which India is underserved in terms of aviation.

So, when India recently in fact dominated the Air Show in Paris, I jokingly mentioned to some people, it appeared to be an Indian Air Show taking place in Paris. With the order of both Air India and Indigo creating a clear focus was on which is the next frontier when it comes to aviation.

And what does it mean? It means we will organize a lot more jobs – one aircraft, a hundred jobs, 600 related jobs, and these are ballpark numbers, but it shows to some extent what it would do for the larger economy. And there’s more than just jobs.

Aviation is a force for growth. There are some international studies and recently Minister of Transportation has also repeated that, each dollar invested in aviation or each rupee invested in aviation will return 3.1 to the larger economy. And that in itself underlines the importance for aviation.

And that’s probably why the Indian government has placed so much importance on expanding the aviation sector in policies, in infrastructure and importantly envisioned going forward for the country. And there’s no reason why India should not have its own set of aviation hubs. A country of the size of India, needs and deserves to have carriers of a world size and airports of a world size, because 65% of the world population today lives in the range of five to six hours flying from India.

If you just look at that number, 65% of the world population today in the range of five to six hours flying from India, and the sheer range we can operate out of Delhi and Chennai, totally different cities and totally different ranges, speaks a lot of the potential of India and importantly for the consumers to make sure that they can go pretty much anywhere in the world connecting in India itself.

And with that, we have the ambition to become a global aviation hub and a strong collaboration within that aviation system because all the strong hubs in other parts of the world, and we don’t have to look too far to see some very effective and very successful examples outside India, be it in Singapore, albeit in the Middle East, require a very strong deep collaboration between all the stakeholders – airports, airlines, the government, but also, whatever can be done in terms of manufacturing, India can and will develop its own manufacturing bases.

And already we see examples of some great companies working in the high-tech aerospace. And with that, if we collaborate with strong support of the government in terms of policies with airports being expanded, airports transforming, new airports being built, all the top 20 cities in the world, no, I should phrase it differently, a significant part of the top 20 cities in the world in terms of population have a dual airport system and soon we will have in India too – a new airport in Delhi and a new airport in Mumbai. And recently, the second airport in Goa opened and even that airport demonstrated that it did not have any negative effects, any downsides for the existing airport. It just shows the potential which is there.

And Indigo has transformed actually the face of Indian aviation with its simple, three customer promises – on-time performance, affordable, FAEs, hassle free and purchase service. And more recently, I would say an unparalleled network, a network which is spanning the nation, 3000 km from north to south and 3000 km from east to west, resulting in a network of some 500 different routes, a hundred international and a little over 400 domestic routes.

And each and every time we open up a new flight into a new city, we see an economic spinoff. What does it mean for international hotels? What does it mean for welcoming foreigners to transfer? What does it mean for Indian business people going from one place to the other in the country? So just the potential and the opportunity to further build on that number of routes is there. And today we take pride in being the seventh largest airline in the world in terms of daily departures. In 17 years, that is an incredible achievement. Last year, we welcomed 86 million customers on board our flights, and today, this year we expect to reach a hundred million. And on a good day today, thank you, on a good day today we welcomed 3 lakh customers on a single day, on our flights.

And that may look like a lot of people, but I guess we’re all aware of the number of travelers by train –  8 billion a year. So can you imagine this inspirational travel and aspirational travel for people travelling from Bihar to Chennai or from Delhi to Mumbai, suddenly two hours on a flight. So that aspiration to travel will continue to grow and therefore, and it is important for us to keep ahead also on the sustainability part and having the world’s youngest fleet for airlines operating more than a hundred aircraft, it means we will also have the lowest CO2 emissions of the airlines in the world with larger fleets than a hundred aircraft. And yet we continue to collaborate in the sector, optimise routes, less weight, even looking at sustainable aviation fuel.

And there were some journalists there asking, is it not too much? Can India handle all that growth? And just look back to the initial numbers, where I mentioned the number of people actually flying the number of planes per population and the opportunity to further build on it. But that means we’ll have a steady flow of aircraft, almost a thousand aircraft on order between today and middle of the next decade, which means we will be welcoming an aircraft pretty much each and every week. So think about what does it mean in terms of training, in terms of development, in terms of pilot hiring, in terms of cabin crew, in terms of mechanics, in terms of management. So that’s an incredible journey we’re embarking upon.

And with that, Indigo expects to be double of today’s size by the end of the decade. And that will bring us really from a domestic carrier into more of a global aviation giant, which again, if you’re the third largest economy in the world, soon, if you’re the largest country in the world in terms of population, you should have an airline system and airlines which are reflection of that population and of that economy.

There again, being in India with such a young population, such an ambitious population, and such a well-educated population, I believe we are in an incredibly good spot to take up that challenge. And when it comes to digital, probably even more, the whole world comes to India for digitization. So why couldn’t we not be ourselves a leader in that digital part? So, we have clearly a very strong ambition to invest in that.

Today we operate 32 international destinations and 81 domestic points. So, it just speaks of the potential we still have to further build. Especially, the international part, cargo and loyalty as new pillars of growth and of course our new ventures, whatever we are going to do, in sync with the entire ecosystem, we are doing that together with our partners.


Pieter Elbers is a Dutch airline executive who is presently the CEO of IndiGo, since 2022. He had been president and CEO of the Netherlands’ flag carrier airline, KLM, from 2014 until his appointment as CEO of IndiGo.

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