Sky is the Limit

Technological innovations must be brought in to handle India’s growing air traffic

Yunus Dar

The domestic air travellers in India increased from 6.1 crore in FY14 to 12.3 crore in FY18. With India being among nations having the lowest airfares in the world and growing per capita, the number of people opting for air travel is going to rise tremendously over the years. The government’s increasing focus on making the air travel accessible to the common man with schemes like UDAAN, is going to put an additional burden on India’s air traffic.

Sky is the Limit

As the aviation industry grows, India’s airports are feeling tremendous pressure. With stagnation in the planning and expansion of airports, congestion is adding to the woes with passengers increasingly complaining of delays and long queues at the airports. The data from International Air Traffic Association (IATA) shows India has witnessed a double-digit rise in domestic passenger traffic in the past 42 months. The airports are ill-equipped to handle more-than-anticipated growth of air traffic.

The arrival of small and low-flying aerial vehicles is adding to the challenge of handling air traffic. With the advent of technology and modern transport, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly being used for surveillance, civil and commercial applications. The global market intelligence and advisory firm, BIS Research, came out with a report this year claiming India was one of the fastest growing markets for UAVs, with the market size slated to reach USD885.7 million by 2022.

Internet giants, Amazon and Google, have even begun testing their own air traffic control networks for their UAVs. The network will use automated cellular and web applications to track and prevent collisions among the small aircraft flying at short heights. Even Uber Technologies has announced the introduction of flying taxis in five countries, including India, signalling the dawn of a new kind of short-distance transportation.

All these developments put a strain on the resources put in place for the air traffic management (ATM). The Airports Authority of India (AAI) which handles the ATM in India, along with Indian Space Research Agency (ISRO) is working on new technologies to modernise India’s airspace management. The agency in May this year signed a Rs 945 crore deal with the US-based Harris Corporation for development of futuristic telecommunications infrastructure (FTI). The aim of FTI is to create a centralised and integrated system of communication to result in more air travel safety and capacity, performance and reliability of the ATM.

The AAI has a tremendous job at hand, providing air traffic services (ATS) over Indian territorial airspace and over Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which is about 2.8 million square nautical miles. The whole of the Indian continental and oceanic airspace is being controlled by seven area control centres, three oceanic control centres and eight lower area control centres.

The need for a more modernised ATM has been felt since long in anticipation of the growing air traffic. While some countries like the US are mulling privatisation of the air traffic control to increase efficiency, India has kept its focus on modernising the system within the existing framework.

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