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Drones, helicopters to create billion air trips in India soon: Jayant Sinha

Subhayan Chakraborty/New Delhi 14 Mar 18 | 11:59 PM

Passenger drones, among other forms of flying machines, will play a large part in achieving the government's goal of a billion passenger air trips a year, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha has said.

He said a billion passenger trips in the near future will come not only from present-day narrow-bodied and wide-bodied aircraft, but also from a greater use of passenger drones, helicopters, turboprops and seaplanes, Sinha said on Wednesday at a conclave held by the All India Management Association.

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The government seems to be taking a cue from the growing buzz around personalized flights on passenger drones and global cab aggregator Uber announcing its 'Elevate' programme which envisions flying taxis. Test runs are expected to start by 2020 in the United States and Dubai.

However, the ministers comments come at a time when scores of scheduled flights on the narrow-bodied A320 aircraft have been cancelled by major aviation players such as Indigo and GoAir over the past two days, after recurring instances of engine malfunction. Thousands of passengers have been left stranded, with as many as 50 flights being cancelled by the two airlines across the country on Wednesday, slightly down from about 70 on Tuesday.

Aviation authorities have subsequently grounded such planes. "I want to emphasize that we have taken the first steps there. No other regulator has been following the neo engines as closely as we have and we are the first ones to actually fully ground them," Sinha claimed.

The total number of passenger trips in India doubled from about 100 million in 2014 to 200 million trips in 2017, Sinha pointed out. "Not many industries in India can legitimately claim they can increase volumes five-fold. But in the airlines industry, we can say with a high degree of confidence that we can do so over the next 15 or 20 years." Sinha added.

Only about 5 per cent India's 1.3 billion-strong population is currently flying, and growth in volume terms continues to be between 16-18 per cent a year. In comparison, one of the largest civil aviation markets, the United States, has 900 million passenger trips a year for a population of about 330 million. China, on the other hand, clocks around 500-600 million passenger trips with a growth of about 9-10 per cent. 

Sinha said the aviation sector has achieved parity with its main competitor, the railways, on pricing, number of trips and revenue. "The total revenue of the Indian Railways is roughly about Rs 2 trillion. It's the same for the telecom industry as well," he said.

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