From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, November 08, 2001


Feeder airlines to soar: Survey

Madhumathi D.S.


PREMIER aerospace lab NAL has come out with a survey on feeder airlines -- a perspective that looks at small aircraft to give connectivity to small and remote cities.

The comprehensive report in four parts also means a market scan in aid of the two small indigenous civilian aircraft which the Bangalore-based NAL is developing. Promotion of feeder airline services also figures in the draft Civil Aviation Policy.

NAL's two-seater trainer `Hansa' has already entered commercial trials while the 14-seater `Saras' is in an advanced stage of integration over the next six months.

NAL is a CSIR lab under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

Dr Satish Chandra, senior NAL scientist who was at the helm of the three-year exercise, told Business Line that the survey sees good, long-term potential for regional air services that would cover 100-800 km routes and which can be served by 10 to 50-seater aircraft. The focus is not only on the metros but on putting B and C class cities also into the air traffic loop.

Besides the overall national market potential, strategies, cost analysis and regulatory aspects of feeder services, Karnataka and the North-East figure in special secondary surveys for the opportunities they offer.

``Here is a technology development agency looking at the airline market,'' Dr Chandra said. ``NAL's main aim is to promote aviation in the country. The survey is aimed at prospective operators, planners, market analysts and Government Departments.''

While there will not be a surge in feeder services in the near term, Saras, once developed, will look at replacing a reasonable number of aircraft imported for business and leisure.

Currently, the feeder airline scene may be in a dip with very few and small operators. But the outlook is bright in the next 10-15 years, when industrial investments and development in these cities are set to perk up.

These small cities with improved market indices have to be seen as potential hubs by 2005-10, when they will start drawing business and pleasure travellers.

As for infrastructure, several smaller cities, especially in the North-East, already have airfields that have not been in use. They could be revived and upgraded through private sector initiatives which the policy is also promoting.

On their own, States like Karnataka too have initiated steps to develop air infrastructure and services to remote urban centres like Gulbarga and Bidar.

If Karnataka has been taken as a model as its economic parameters reflect the averages for India, the North-East is a special case. ``The terrain there is bad and the connectivity is poor. Forcing big players to fly to N-E will not be viable. And so, feeders are the answer. As in the US, there could be subsidies for operating air services to such a remote region,''

according to Dr Chandra.

The study also analyses why public and private services, Vayudoot for one, have failed as a combined result of bad management, regulation as also heavy fuel taxes by States like Karnataka.

The study was conducted before September but, according to Dr Chandra, the post-WTC economic issues that touch aviation should iron out in a couple of years.

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