Global Aviation: The Hare’s and the lone Tortoise!

Sometimes, figures speak more than the words. Recently I perused with interest the global aviation traffic (top 50) which revealed several insights about the gap some emerging countries like India faces in the global aviation traffic market place.

The top 50 airports in the world shared by 23 countries ferried 2.3 billion passengers accounting for 50% of the global population during 2013. USA leads the pack in terms of total passenger traffic nearly thrice the size of its population and boast of the largest network of airports to support this traffic density. Nearly 814 million people travel every year through 17 airport network within USA with Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport being the largest ferrying around 94 million passengers followed by O'Hare International Airport with about 66 million. In terms of global ranking, Beijing Capital International Airport is now second largest after Atlanta International Airport with about 83 million passengers. However, it is the combined strength that matters more here than individual airports. At 17 airports, USA is air miles ahead of all other countries with China accounting for 7 airports in the top 50.

Dubai tops the table from a density point of view (defined as total passengers that pass through its airport relative to its population). At 66 million passengers, it transports 30 times its tiny population. Singapore Netherlands and UK also follow this hub model where there is distinct lack of connect with local population and aviation travellers though not as pronounced as Dubai.

USA is a case of domestic demand triggering the growth while countries like Australia, Spain, Malaysia and Turkey relying probably on tourist traffic to populate its air traffic density.

How about the BRIC’s? Excepting China which made inroads in the traffic density, all other countries are laggards with India being a notable one. With a population exceeding a billion, India’s total air passengers numbered only 68 million, a measly 6% of its population compared with 25% for China, 257% for USA and 3000% for Dubai. Though two airports figure in the top 50, (Delhi and Mumbai), the gap is significant and noticeable. Poor airport infrastructure, lack of focus to develop the country as a tourist destination, security concerns, affordability, poor regulations and above all economic stagnation all contribute to this sorry state of affairs. The train travel is also heavily subsidized making the conversion very difficult. While the noise made by low cost airlines and the associated price wars is interesting and may give an impression that Indian aviation is probably full of activity, statistics show that we have raced to the bottom over time and have a huge catch up to do. While in this race of global aviation traffic, there are several hare’s (USA, China, Dubai, etc.), there is only one tortoise!

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