Campbell Wilson, who took over as chief executive of Air India last year, is spearheading a transformation of the Tata Group-owned airline.with Business line, who shared his thoughts on the airline’s growth plans and the health of the industry. Edited excerpts:
What is your view on the current health of the Indian aviation industry? Are we heading towards a duopoly?
The evidence suggests that the past few years have not been healthy. Industry – We have seen many airlines born, some struggling and some disappearing. Many countries around the world have gone through this process, and we have seen fragmentation give way to consolidation. We are now seeing consolidation in India with the emergence of two well-capitalized and well-supported airlines. Well, I wouldn’t say that (we are heading towards a duopoly), but we are seeing consolidation.
Any thoughts on the overall regulatory and policy environment? What else can governments do to boost growth?
We must give credit where credit is due. Privatization of Indian aviation is a necessary step and the Uddan scheme provides good incubation space for underutilized route and airport infrastructure. Another area where results have been achieved is fuel prices. Both in terms of taxes and benchmarking fuel prices against international benchmarks to increase transparency. However, we do not yet have a fuel tax in all states. Another thing that needs to be addressed is international air rights. Apart from this, Digi Yatra and other similar technologies have a certain scope of expansion.
Under Vihaan’s leadership, you announced a target of 30% market share by 2027. The group’s market share has reached 25%. Can the 2025 target be achieved?
It depends on how many aircraft we add and how well we fill them, so I can’t give a timeline. Having said that, if we achieve certain milestones earlier than expected, we will develop that desire.
IndiGo is rapidly expanding in the secondary market to have a strong network. How does the airline plan to compete?
We need to do the same. When we get incremental aircraft. We need to expand in length and breath to support connectivity and distribution between domestic and international full-service and low-cost carriers to expand seamless connectivity.
Do you think there is an opportunity to build this hub in the east or south?
It happens both nationally and internationally, but more so in the south at the moment. We recently added flights from Bangalore to San Francisco and we are adding more flights from Bangalore where we see great opportunities. We hope to increase capacity in places like Hyderabad, Goa, etc.
Air India earlier said it would increase cargo capacity by 300%. What are you going to do?
The main driver of growth will be the addition of wide-body aircraft. Each Boeing 777 aircraft can carry about 20 tons of air cargo, so the transportation capacity has been greatly expanded. We will look at all options to increase capacity and connectivity, but mainly from increases in aircraft. Given that a small number of wide-body aircraft will be modified next year, capacity will be reduced in the short term, but there will be no impact in the long term. We will also explore partnerships.
What was the idea behind setting up a rental department in Gift City?
Gift City is an effective and efficient tool to introduce aircraft to India. Our participation in Gift City is to support India’s national ambition to create an aircraft leasing and financing ecosystem. Historically, Ireland has been a key location for achieving this. We’re happy to do our part to bring this closer to us.
Is it possible for all planes to pass through GIFT City?
This is likely to be the case to the extent that we enter into an aircraft lease.
In July, you met with executives from Apple and Stanford University to discuss synergies. Any updates?
They have interesting conversations about revenue management and market segmentation, but we’re only a year or two away from seeing performance and results. We have an existing relationship with Apple, where our iPads come from, and we use software they develop that relates to us. The user interface design experience for both employees and customers, so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Does the company plan to add more lounges?
We are exploring adding more lounges.
As fuel prices rise during the holidays, will tariffs rise?
Rising fuel prices are not good for airlines or consumers as costs must eventually be recouped and we are working hard to add additional capacity to frequently flown routes and hope that by putting this supply on the market we can keep ticket prices at level that people can accept. Being satisfied at the same time allows us to recoup our costs.
Do you think there is any possibility of Air India Express shifting operations to secondary airports like Mopa or Jewar?
There are a lot of dynamics we need to consider here. One is the airport’s operating costs, service scope and impact on the network. If you have two airlines operating from different airports, the ability for passengers to connect between the two airlines will be hampered. So what the best results are will depend on what kind of airline you are. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.
IndiGo has shifted its operations to Goa’s Mopa Airport. Do you think there is an opportunity to compete with IndiGo at a low cost level in Mopa?
We have also moved Goa-London flights to Mopa Airport. Air India Express is the airline that competes most directly with IndiGo and it will take all necessary steps to remain competitive.
Posted on September 26, 2023