CNN) — Just as the railways shaped modern India, cheap air tickets, driven by fierce competition between carriers, are changing the way Indians travel around their country.They’re also promising to take hundreds of millions more to the skies — most of whom have never flown before.
But, ironically, cut-throat competition also means the very same airlines that unleashed this revolution may be among the last to enjoy its fruits.Case in point: The recent collapse of debt-ridden Jet Airways — one of India’s biggest airlines. Despite operating in one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, on April 18 it announced it was indefinitely suspending all flights after it ran out of cash.
To better understand the current paradoxical state of India’s aviation industry, we need to go back a few years.
In 2014, a relatively young Indian low-cost airline, IndiGo, made headlines by ordering 250 Airbus A320 aircraft in one go, a purchase worth a whopping $26.5 billion at catalog prices.Coming on the heels of an earlier order for 100 aircraft of the same type, it was at the time the single largest aircraft order ever received by the European aircraft manufacturer.While these figures may have seemed eye-catching back then, demand has caught up after four years of double-digit growth in the Indian commercial aviation industry, and IndiGo is already changing up to bigger airplanes.In late 2018, the carrier announced it was converting 125 aircraft from its A320 order to the A321neo type, a larger aircraft that’s able to accommodate 220 passengers, instead of the 189 of the A320.
These aircraft mega-orders aren’t one-offs, but reflect a wider trend.In July 2016, budget carrier GoAir doubled the size of an earlier aircraft order of the new Airbus A320neo to 144. Spicejet has ordered 205 of Boeing’s 737 MAX model.Indian airlines have close to 1,000 outstanding aircraft orders in their books. To put this figure in context, there are currently nearly 700 operational airliners in India.
So what does all this mean for travelers?Basically, cheap domestic flights and more routes — making it easier than ever to explore India, including destinations once considered too remote for a quick vacation.Budget airlines now account for 70% of the domestic market and, according to the International Air Transport Organization (IATA), the average domestic fare in India now costs less than a third of what it did in 2005.