Air travel will reach pre-COVID levels in Jan: Hardeep Puri

Our fleet size can grow to 2,000 aircraft from 750 today, given that the penetration is only 7 per cent and the sector's growth rate before COVID was 17 per cent at one time, he says .

Hardeep Puri says there is a massive opportunity for investors across the aviation ecosystem, including airports, airlines, ground-handling, maintenance, repair, and overhaul. File photo: PTI

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Monday (November 16) said that air travel will reach pre-COVID levels by early January 2021.

He said people need to maintain self-discipline and safety protocols for the civil aviation sector to reach pre-COVID level.

“We opened civil aviation on May 25, a good two months and two days after we had completely locked down, with 30,000 passengers a day. Two or three days ago, just before Diwali, we carried 2,25,000 people,” Puri said while making an address at the ‘Deccan Dialogue’, organised by Indian School of Business (Hyderabad) in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs.

“At a scale at which we are opening up in a calibrated manner, we have already reached 70 per cent capacity and I have asked my colleagues to look at 80 per cent. I am confident that by 31 December or soon thereafter… means a week or two thereafter, we will be back to pre-COVID levels,” he said.

Puri said he was committed to bring aviation GDP back to India. He was confident that the sector would get a boost in the next few years with the country getting 100 new airports and the fleet size reaching up to 2,000.

“Our fleet size today should be around 750. I know airlines when they come across a pandemic like this, they try to curtail the size of their fleet orders. But, I can say with seven per cent penetration, which means out of every 100 Indians, only seven fly, and a 17 per cent rate of growth which we experienced pre-COVID at one time, we will move from 750, not to the 1,200 which everybody says but to 2,000 aircraft. We will do it pretty quickly,” he said.

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He said that there is a massive opportunity for investors across the aviation ecosystem, including airports, airlines, ground-handling, maintenance, repair, and overhaul.

The minister also revealed that Indian carriers get a mere 17% of the value of traffic between India and the US. “The value of traffic between India and the US is roughly 7 billion dollars annually. How much do Indian carriers get out of that traffic, a mere 17%. It is not as if American carriers are getting the remaining 83%. I am not going to say who is getting it. But I see no reason why Indian flagship carriers and private carriers should not be earning more money flying passengers,” he said while terming this as a distorted business model.

Puri, who is also the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, hoped that the country would be able to reposition itself as an economic player in the global supply chain before long.

He said even during the pandemic, global technology majors like Google, Amazon and Mubadala announced $20 billion investment in India.

The concept of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ would  lead to a stronger India post COVID, he said.

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