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   Vol. 23 No. 25
Tuesday May 28, 2024

India Widebody Freighter Shortage

India Map

  The Indian government’s ambitious drive to boost air cargo to 10 million metric tonnes by 2030 looks good on paper. But will it be possible to achieve that goal without widebody freighters? That is the question that is being asked by air cargo stakeholders.
  A quick look at prevailing figures points out that exports from India have seen strong growth: there was a 21 percent growth year-on-year, according to figures for the first eleven months of fiscal year 2023-24 (April to February). Domestic cargo—belly cargo in passenger aircraft as well as freighters—grew to 6,98,000 metric tonnes at the same time. Domestic cargo constitutes 40 percent while exports make up 60 percent of the total throughput. Of this, the largest chunk of export shipments was transported by foreign air operators. That is around 94-95 percent of the export cargo. The remaining 5-6 percent is being handled by widebodies of Air India and Vistara. By 2027, low-cost Indian carrier IndiGo would start widebody services: it has recently signed a firm deal for 30 A350-900 jets, with purchase rights for an additional 70 “for possible future needs under certain conditions”.
  Both Boeing and Airbus have forecast India's growth in air cargo, largely due to manufacturing and e-commerce. Boeing, for example, has said that India would need more than 80 freighters in the next 20 years. Airbus, with its eye at the future, has tied up with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL, Indian public sector aerospace and defence company, headquartered in Bangalore) to support aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services for the country's burgeoning commercial fleet.
  In the prevailing condition, it will be a difficult task to reach the 10 million metric tonnes mark by 2030 and transporting the 10-mn tonne air cargo as belly cargo cannot even be imagined.
  What India lacks are widebody freighters that can fly long distances. Experts have pointed out that this is opportune moment for potential air cargo operators to start freighter aircraft and P2F (passenger-to-freight) operations.
  Placed against freight carriers like FedEx, DHL or UPS, India has only a handful of freighters: 14 to be exact and all of them are narrowbodies that cannot reach destinations in Europe or the United States.
  The major obstacle for potential domestic freighter operators is the lack of a level playing field. The huge custom dues that have to be paid for leased aircraft registered in India put operators off. Additionally, civil aviation regulations prevent India’s cargo airlines from operating planes that are more than 20 years old even as foreign carriers fly into India with much older planes.
  The government is well aware of the demand from air cargo stakeholders for the creation of dedicated cargo airports. The government is also keen to bring a transshipment policy to make India an international hub for air cargo transport. This would go a long way to achieve the ambitious target by 2030.
  However, a word of caution. This is election year and by June 4, India will know who will take over the governance of this huge country. If there is a change in the government, air cargo stakeholders might have to wait longer for any sort of development to take place.
Tirthankar Ghosh

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Where Are They Now

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