Time for Delhi to become an international hub

Our airports are hubs already, making passengers conveniently transit to other destinations. This has been particularly prevalent on non-metro to metro routes, though in recent time, many new city pairs have been added, more are in the offing. Hub is where airlines give their passengers the opportunity to cross over onto another route. When you use this facility from different points to different others, on your own network, or through alliance partners, the airline is creating a hub.

Internationally, the hub is normally within your own country, your busy city. So, Lufthansa can use Frankfurt and Munich within Germany. Given the open market within EU, Germany has other smaller hubs within Europe, either directly or with their other owned airlines like Austrian and Swiss.

Singapore and Dubai are great examples where their respective national carriers provide a crossover facility from East to the West. Istanbul is growing in strength. One big requisite is a strong national airline around which all other developments do a piggy back. This is also when you start viewing aviation as serious business, capable of providing more jobs.

India has been well placed geographically. We could and should have had a few global hubs by now, given the size of our market. Our policy planners at that time did not understand the value proposition and allowed other hubs to grow in our region, like Colombo and Bangkok.

We are distanced well to provide links say between Australia and the UK and Europe. This was not to be, as ever since our airports grew in dimensions, our airlines petered out. Air India became a relatively weak airline. Jet and Kingfisher closed down. New entrant Indigo preferred to operate with aircrafts that did not have the capacity to go beyond 5/6 hours of flying time.

Now the dynamics are changing. Airports are getting a further lease of life. In fact, at both New Delhi and Mumbai, a second airport is fast taking shape. Our airlines have opted for wide body aircraft that can provide genuine and real time capability to hub. Air India has ordered some 70 of them, with deliveries to start soon. Indigo is expected to announce soon as well, presently evaluating their best bet of aircraft. We also have a government which is seized of the matter and not allowing more hubs to grow out of our own traffic in other countries.

For this to have effect, airlines need to be given single terminal access. We gather some of this is already happening. Air India already functions from Terminal 3; after its expansion project, the Delhi’s IGIA will allocate IndiGo only from Terminal 1. Currently, IndiGo’s flights are spread out of all three terminals which has been an issue for the airline’s traffic to transit from international to domestic.

Better connectivity is required between the two terminals. Overseas, airports have a dedicated train connection, much of it underground. We can have one, too.

IGIA is steadily growing in strength. It is presently serviced by as many as 63 airlines. Between April 2022 and February 2023, the airport handled over 14.50 million transfer passengers of which around 8.56 million were domestic to domestic transfer passengers. About 2.88 million were domestic to international, 2.73 million internationals to domestic; over 3.37 lakh were international to international transfer passengers. The volumes are there already. With expected increases in traffic, we can attract more transit flight.

IGIA has all the ingredients required for making it the first truly global hub in India. Other cities can follow.

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