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India's Aviation Industry Takes Off Along With the Economy


India's aviation sector is poised for massive growth after years of remaining on the slow track.

The number of air travelers in India jumped by nearly 26 percent over the past six months to touch more than 18 million.

Aviation experts say that number could rise to 50 million over the next five years, helped by a booming economy and growing affluence among India's middle classes.

The spurt in air traffic has been helped by the entry of low-cost airlines that have begun offering competitive fares on domestic flights. Kapil Kaul, the director in New Delhi for the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, says the trend of downward pricing is likely to continue.

"We are hopeful that with the three to four new low-cost airlines that are starting over the next financial year, Indian domestic aviation prices will come down another 15 to 20 percent, which will be the reason for tremendous stimulus," he said.

The huge growth in passenger traffic has fueled expansion plans in both state-run and private airlines in the country, creating a big demand for new aircraft.

Airbus and rival Boeing estimate that India will need more than 250 new aircraft over the next 15 years to service the growing passenger traffic.

The country's two state-run airlines have already announced plans to spend up to $5 billion on expanding their fleets. Indian Airlines is buying 40 new aircraft, while Air India has invited bids for 60 new planes.

Mr. Kaul of the Asia Pacific Aviation Center says the sector could be grounded if India fails to move ahead with modernizing its airports. He says the government has to realize the positive role that aviation can play.

"We are really extremely optimistic that India is the next best bet after China," he noted. "I am quite hopeful that the government will recognize that aviation will play a critical role in the economic and socio-economic development of the country."

The government says it is finalizing plans to spruce up the key gateway airports of New Delhi and Bombay next year.

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