The following speech was given by the CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Tony Tyler, at the India Aviation 2012 Air Show in Hyderabad. Our comments are included in the quote and are italicized and colored red.
Good morning and thank you for the invitation to address the opening session of this important event. Congratulations to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry for growing it into a must-attend conference for the country’s aviation sector.
Civil aviation is an important industry for India. Domestically, it connects India’s vast geography more time-efficiently than any other mode of transport. Internationally, it links India to important global markets for trade and source markets for tourism. The Incredible India campaign is well known the world over. Clearly India is investing heavily in promotion to support the economic benefits that tourism brings to the local economy.
Aviation is the backbone of the tourism industry. Aviation may not have catchy jingles like Incredible India, but it is a key economic contributor. IATA recently commissioned from Oxford Economics a study of the economic benefits that aviation brings to the Indian economy. The results are impressive. Aviation is responsible for 0.5% of India’s GDP. It supports 1.7 million jobs. This could be much more. In Canada, for example, a country with a population many times smaller than India’s, aviation supports 2.2% of GDP and 401,000 jobs. In Australia the figures are 2.6% of GDP and 312,000 jobs.
India is a developing economy with enormous growth potential for aviation. On average, people in the US travel by plane about 1.8 times per year. In India, the average is 0.1 trip per year….or turned around, one trip by air every 10 years.
Let’s do some simple maths. If India’s 1.17 billion people traveled at the same frequency as do Americans, a market of 2.1 billion travelers would be created. But even if they only traveled one-third as much, India would have an air travel market of about 700 million—rivaling that of the US.
Such development will not happen overnight. But the Indian market is growing at about twice the global average—about 12% domestically and 8-9% internationally.
There is no doubt that India is a market with big potential and that aviation could be a much more significant contributor to the Indian economy. But there are no guarantees that this will occur without well-coordinated policy measures—measures which will enable competitiveness.
The Indian aviation industry that I see today faces major hurdles. Air India—the national carrier—is being sustained on life support of state aid. The difficulties at Kingfisher are well known. And the sector as a whole is not generating the sustainable profits that one would expect from such a large high-growth market.
I am not here to point fingers or apportion blame. The state of today’s Indian aviation industry is the result of a number of factors—not least of which was an aggressive expansion by the country’s airlines that took effect just as the world encountered a pair of massive economic shocks in succession. By that of course, I am referring to the skyrocketing oil price in 2008 that shifted almost overnight into a global financial crisis.
Today, I would like to explore some measures that could help turn the fortunes of Indian aviation around.
For background, let’s remind ourselves of the global trends. In December we forecast that the world airline industry would squeeze out a profit for 2012 of just $3.5 billion on revenues of $600 billion. That is about a 0.6% margin. If we are right about that, since 2001 the industry will have lost $26 billion on revenues exceeding $5.5 trillion. As I have said many times before, we are an industry that is all about turnover with very little leftover.
As with any global overview, this misses the regional detail. If we look more closely at this year’s anticipated performance, we see European carriers losing $600 million—primarily owing to the fragile state of the European economy. And we see Asia-Pacific carriers set to earn $2.1 billion. This is down from the $3.3 billion that the region made in 2011, but it will still be the region that delivers the largest absolute profit. India’s contribution to Asia-Pacific profitability, however, will be negative. Carriers here look set to continue delivering collective losses estimated in the billions of dollars.
As I see it, an agenda to build competitiveness in Indian aviation rests on four pillars:
- Costs and
- Investment policies
I will address each individually.
Let me start with taxes. Yesterday the Minister of Civil Aviation mentioned the need to make air travel more accessible. One way of achieving that is by taxing it less.
Our concern over the application of the 10.3% Service Tax to air tickets as well as to services that airlines purchase, such as landing and air navigation fees, is well known. There is the legal argument that it contravenes the provisions of the Chicago Convention. While MOCA is quite familiar with ICAO principles, the Ministry of Finance continues to ignore international obligation. Removing the burden of the Service Tax would improve the competitiveness of Indian aviation, boost access to both domestic and international connectivity and drive economic growth.
Service taxes in the EU have already reduced the competitiveness of carriers like Lufthansa and British Airways, especially on long haul connections. This is one reason why the MEB3 airlines (Etihad, Emirates, Qatar) have been so successful in growing into the EU. If Mumbai and Delhi are ever to develop as true connecting hubs, these service taxes must be abolished.
Even more damaging however, is the tax on fuel. All fuel is subject to an 8.24% excise duty. Then domestic flights face state fuel taxes of up to 30%. The result is destroying the competitiveness of Indian airlines. Globally, fuel accounts for about 32% of an airline’s cost base. For Indian carriers it is 45%. MOCA has understood this and is lobbying to reduce the burden.
MOCA is seeking to address the issue of high jet fuel prices by allowing airlines to directly import fuel. So far the impact has been limited because we believe the Competition Commission of India and the Petroleum Ministry have not yet mandated access to off-airport transport and storage infrastructure.
The high cost of jet fuel has been hijacking the competitiveness of the Indian air transport industry for over a decade—with every flight that has taken off or landed on the sub-Continent. We appreciate the effort to start to address the issue. It is now clearly recognized by all that fuel taxes are sucking the life blood from the Indian aviation sector. The industry is now in crisis and we need a coordinated effort among all Ministries—at national and state levels—to restore competitiveness.
The mission for such a coordinated effort is clear. Taxes—particularly state taxes—should be removed and a National Access Regime must be established for jet fuel. Such a regime should allow users, including airlines, access to critical fuel infrastructure at reasonable prices.
To be honest, the states do not even need to go so far as to cut the fuel taxes entirely, just decrease them. A 15 percentage point cut (from an average between 22 and 25%) would restore the Indian airline sector to tangible profitability. Moreover, as with the Laffer curve, states can get more revenue in the long run by lowering rates and growing aviation. The states should seek to increase fuel tax revenues by incentivizing India’s airlines to use more fuel (via operational growth), not by taxing it at stiflingly high rates. The economics of direct importation of fuel are murky at best; import duties will eat away a lot of the gains, and Indian states are likely to add entry duties to make up the lost revenue any way.
Staying on the topic of infrastructure, some good progress has been made with India’s airports—particularly those using the public private partnerships (PPP) model. Arriving in Hyderabad early yesterday morning, the immediate impression was positive—and light years ahead of my memories of what the airport infrastructure was even a decade ago. I am looking forward to seeing the new terminal at Delhi later today, which I am told is even more impressive— and completed in 36 months.
When India wants to build world class infrastructure, it clearly can succeed. Why then is Navi Mumbai so long delayed? Its two runways and potential to handle up to 60 million passengers per year is badly needed to serve India’s economic capital. The first phase was meant to open in 2014 but construction has not yet begun. Land acquisition is not even complete.
India shares the NIMBYism (“Not in my backyard”- people who argue against infrastructure and other development because it affects them personally while helping the country as a whole) and perverse environmental arguments of the west, but infrastructure development is far more crucial to our economic growth. Plus, the Indian government’s speed at approving such projects makes the tortoise look like Usain Bolt.
Even with recent expansion, the facilities at Mumbai are bursting at the seams. Navi Mumbai is not an option. It is critical. And the only way that I can see it being completed without further delay is if the government—all Ministries—coordinate their efforts to facilitate success–as they did for Delhi’s new terminal.
Industry is a willing partner in developing critical infrastructure. In 2008 we successfully worked with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to fund Data Link services in the Bay of Bengal with a $4 per flight fee over four years. The data link was successfully installed, and is improving airline operations. There is surplus in the account. Airlines want to use it in a Project India initiative that will develop strategies to reduce delays and improve the efficiency and robustness of air traffic management. Where we see value and a clear return on investment, airlines are willing partners in developing infrastructure capabilities.
While industry would certainly be an efficient partner in infrastructure development, India must carefully ensure that the experience with Bangalore International Airport (BIAL)’s runway via Larson and Toubro is not repeated. India’s Air Traffic Management system could use a makeover however; Metro airports are already suffering huge delays during peak flight times.
But of course, investments must be cost efficient and affordable. I praised the developments at Delhi Airport. The new terminal and third runway have been a much needed boost to the sector. For the first time ever, India has a facility capable of connecting traffic in an efficient hub operation. Overall airport charges at Delhi, using market rates, are aligned with those in Seoul, Auckland or Madrid. But if you convert this to a purchasing power parity rate, the current rate is about 50% or higher than charges at major hubs such as Heathrow, Paris or Tokyo. With that, cost-efficiency gains would be expected.
Instead, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) proposed a 740% increase that would make it the world’s most expensive airport. The Airport Economic Regulatory Authority, or AERA, knocked that back to 340% to be implemented in two stages. If that materializes, Delhi will still become the world’s most expensive airport. India’s aviation industry is sick. Adding a $300 million headache to it will put it in intensive care from a cost perspective. And it also is estimated that a 5-7% decrease in demand will result. Such an increase in charges would certainly fit the Ministry of Tourism’s “Incredible India” description, but it will come with a fall in tourist arrivals and further damage to local and international airline connectivity.
Given the broad economic implications of such an increase, it is important that the government takes immediate action. First 340% is unacceptable. It would be a shock to the system that would ripple throughout the economy.
DIAL is a national asset that spurs economic activity far greater than its fiscal losses. Perhaps India’s government should step in to eat some of the costs. Because of over capacity in the Indian market, foreign carriers are very sensitive to the effects of huge airport cost increases on their marginal Indian services. Low cost carriers in particular could be driven away in droves, as their margins will be hurt the most.
The Ministry cannot stand by and let this happen. It must intervene with a broader context. This should take into consideration the long-term development of Indian aviation at its hubs. And if need be, the concession contracts, which at Delhi channel 46% of revenues to AAI, need to be rethought with the aim of offsetting aeronautical charges. The solutions are readily available and there is no reason why the 340%, or any increase of this magnitude, should be allowed to go through. And of course, even though we are discussing Delhi, we are also keeping a watchful eye on Mumbai to avoid any similar proposals.
And while we are at it, a few other issues should be addressed. Any legitimate revenue claw-back under the current regulatory structure must be spread across a number of years, not crammed into the next two. An urgent review should look at the structure of charging for international versus domestic. We all use the same airport and runway. There is no justification for differential charges or charges based on distance flown. In fact, like the application of the Service Tax, it contravenes ICAO rules. Finally, there should also be a review of the allocation of aeronautical and non-aeronautical assets to be more in line with other major international airports.
Last on the agenda, I should like to comment on the recently much discussed issue of foreign direct investment for Indian airlines.
The 49% cap on foreign investment in airlines aligns with general practice globally. But the complete exclusion of foreign airlines from investing in Indian carriers set by the Ministry of Commerce is unique to India. Given that foreign airlines could invest to own 100% of mass rapid transit systems, ports and harbors, hotels and tourism, inland water and ocean transport, toll roads or tunnels in India, it is unique in the domestic context as well.
MOCA has proposed that the restriction be lifted so that foreign airlines could own up to 49% of an Indian domestic carrier. This would allow strategic tie-ups with foreign airlines cemented by an equity stake. Such equity partnerships have strengthened airlines such as Lufthansa-SWISS-Austrian-Brussels Airlines, Air France-KLM-Alitalia, LAN-TAM and British Airways-Iberia, just to name a few. What is the public policy imperative of denying this possibility to Indian carriers?
I hope that it will be given due and positive consideration by the Indian cabinet.
But I want to be very clear in stating that allowing foreign airlines to invest in Indian aviation is not a panacea. Without addressing the other three pillars—costs, taxes and infrastructure—it may only be a theoretical exercise because, under current conditions, the odds are stacked against any investor making a positive return on investment in the Indian aviation sector—and no-one is likely to come forward unless they see themselves making a profit.
We agree that FDI is not a panacea, in fact those were our exact words back in January. India’s government should go further however, and allow full mergers between Indian airlines and foreign carriers. A Jet Airways-Brussels Airlines merger would solidify their US ops substantially.
The problems facing the Indian aviation sector are severe and beyond the control of airlines. Solving them will require a government-wide team effort. MOCA can and has taken steps in the right direction, but without the support of the Ministries of Tourism, Finance, Environment and Petroleum and the Competition Commission, the major changes that are needed cannot take place.
Many committees and groups of government officials have looked at remedies in the past. Another committee is not the answer.
I would suggest that a common vision—expressed in a National Aviation Policy strongly linked to an implementation plan—could be a way forward. Such a policy would need to re-build competitiveness by addressing the difficult issues of tax, cost, investment and infrastructure, building on the ground work already being done within MOCA and in consultation with industry.
The situation in India today is critical and we must move forward urgently. Through IATA, I can certainly pledge the resources of the industry to support the development of such a policy with the greatest amount of determination and speed.
I hope that the speed and determination of India in dealing with the issue of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is a good indication of what can be achieved with coordinated policy measures.
Managing aviation’s 2% share of global man-made CO2 emissions also sits at the top of the industry’s agenda. Airlines, airports, air navigation service providers and manufacturers have committed to:
- Improve aircraft fuel efficiency by 1.5% annually to 2020
- Cap net CO2 emissions from 2020 with carbon-neutral growth
- Cut net emissions from air transport in half by 2050 compared to 2005
We will achieve this with a four pillar strategy covering improved technology, better operations and infrastructure and economic or market based measures.
Optimizing routes, improving air traffic management, investing in new and more fuel-efficient aircraft, and developing sustainable biofuels for aviation are all elements of the solution. And India has potential to contribute to all of these.
At the same time, a key, if temporary, pillar of our strategy is market based measures. These must be coordinated among governments to avoid market distortions, ensure fairness and avoid carbon leakage. These are the essence of the principles adopted by ICAO at their 2010 Assembly as a guide for developing a global framework for market based measures by 2013.
Unfortunately, Europe has chosen a go-it-alone regional approach with the inclusion of international aviation in the EU ETS from this year. This is driving discord at a time when we need harmony. Why? Because non-European states, India included, see the intention to tax non-EU airlines for emissions over non-EU territory as an attack on their sovereignty.
India hosted an initial meeting of states opposing Europe’s plans. This was followed in Moscow where India was among 24 states represented. They issued a declaration urging a global solution through ICAO and outlining possible actions if Europe continues on its unilateral and extra-territorial path.
No one wants a trade war. But the prospects are growing more likely.
There is a solution. And that is ICAO—where global standards and solutions for air transport are made. The EU deserves full credit for bringing the emissions issue to the front and center of the global aviation agenda. And I believe that recent indications coming from Europe point toward their understanding that a global agreement through ICAO is the way forward. Now it is time for Europe sincerely to take a stake in making the discussions and decisions at ICAO a success.
I chose these words very carefully because, if I understand the international mood correctly, non-European states will be looking for some proof of Europe’s sincerity. That will mean doing more than simply reiterating its determination to implement its scheme even as it professes to support a negotiated agreement through the ICAO process.
We agree. Kudos to India’s government for finally taking a stand on something beneficial for its airlines.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate two statements that I firmly believe:
- The first is that aviation is a team effort. It works best when all the parts are operating in coordination and with a common vision. That is true for how India should develop a National Aviation Policy. And it is equally true for how the world must address the vital issue of climate change.
- The second is that aviation is a force for good in the world. The connectivity that this industry provides links goods to markets, people to business, reunites families, supports tourism and facilitates journeys of discovery. Aviation generates tremendous wealth—both material and of the human spirit. And it has almost infinite potential.
If we combine the two of these in the context of India today, we have a motivation and a way forward to ensure that aviation delivers the best that it can to India and its economic development.
Aviation is critical to India’s continued growth as an economy. Already, service sectors (such as IT) are a huge part of India’s economy, and air travel is an important tool for service professionals. As India’s economy continues to grow, diversify, and globalize; the links provided by airlines will only grow in importance. India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)must take the proper steps to ensure this country’s aviation competitiveness.
I am also very confident that the Ministry of Civil Aviation is moving in the right direction of addressing India’s challenges. And I would like to commend the tireless work of Dr. Nasim Zaidi. Over the last two days I have seen his passion in trying to bring together the concerns of aviation stakeholders into ideas that can be turned into positive action.
I too personally am passionate about aviation. And I am an Indian optimist. IATA will be fully engaged in doing whatever it can in the team effort to turn Indian aviation into the great success story that it has the potential to become. For me, India should not settle for a bronze medal in the world of aviation….it has pure gold potential. Together, let’s make it happen.
Readers, do you agree with Mr. Tyler’s commentary?
Please post a comment below.