Case Study: The In­dian Scene, circa 1975

Typ­i­cal scene at metro air­ports in the early years of In­dian Air­lines : DC-4 on the tar­mac as DC-3 takes off

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - News -

So what has changed ? Vayu flies read­ers back to the early 70’ s on In­dia’s en­deavor to launch regional air con­nec­tiv­ity ser­vices at a time when the then In­dian Air­lines sum­mar­ily closed 16 of 70 sta­tions be­cause of non-vi­a­bil­ity of those air routes. Have the lessons been learnt ?

So, what has changed ? Vayu Aero­space Re­view flies read­ers back to the early sev­en­ties on In­dia’s en­deav­our to start regional air con­nec­tiv­ity which ra­tio­nale was un­der­stood and pro­moted for nearly a decade be­fore Vayu­doot, In­dia’s regional or third- level air­line, came into be­ing in Jan­uary 1981. Suc­ces­sive min­is­ters for civil avi­a­tion had pe­ri­od­i­cally an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment was study­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of es­tab­lish­ing such air ser­vices to link hith­erto un­con­nected points, par­tic­u­larly in the North-East, that var­i­ous op­tions as to the kind of air car­rier were be­ing ex­am­ined and that var­i­ous suit­able air­craft types were be­ing eval­u­ated. In fact, it was af­ter the fifth suc­ces­sive com­mit­tee’s re­port that such an air­line took for­mal shape, as­sumed a name and be­gan air ser­vices, al­beit with bor­rowed feath­ers so to speak. It was upto the sixth com­mit­tee to se­lect the most ef­fi­cient and cost-ef­fec­tive air­craft to match the na­tion’s ob­jec­tives.

Read on : As stated in In­dian Air­lines’ An­nual Re­port for 1974-75, the Cor­po­ra­tion achieved the trans­for­ma­tion of a bud­geted loss of Rs 16.5 crores to a surplus of Rs 1.01 crores ba­si­cally be­cause it re­vised the route sys­tem that re­sulted in the clo­sure of 16 out of 70 sta­tions (em­pha­sis added) and re-de­ployed its air­craft to sec­tors where the de­mand, and hence the earn­ing po­ten­tial, was greater. Hence, the over­all load fac­tor of 66.5% was ex­ceeded by two points, clo­sure of the six­teen sta­tions and aug­men­ta­tion of ca­pac­ity on routes with higher traf­fic po­ten­tial re­sult­ing in a net re­duc­tion of Avail­able Tonne Kilo­me­tres by 7.1% but an in­crease in Op­er­at­ing Rev­enue per ATKm. by 15.3%. Yet, as the Re­port con­tin­ued, “the Cor­po­ra­tion was not guided only by the profit mo­tive and con­tin­ued to op­er­ate

cer­tain un­eco­nomic routes as an obli­ga­tion to pro­vide air ser­vices in the coun­try as a whole and for regional de­vel­op­ment and the growth of tourism”. Notwith­stand­ing, six­teen sta­tions were ac­tu­ally closed down and In­dian Air­lines re­fused re­quests for op­er­a­tion of new ser­vices or to mod­ify ex­ist­ing routes when the change would in­crease its fi­nan­cial bur­den.

Now, who de­cides on the over­all in­ter­ests of the na­tion? The an­nual bal­ance sheet of a pub­lic sec­tor un­der­tak­ing ? The pre­am­ble con­tin­ued: “The na­tion is striv­ing to ac­cel­er­ate its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and de- cen­tral­i­sa­tion of in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial con­cen­tra­tions is an avowed aim. Trans­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tions are vi­tal fac­tors not the least be­cause they sup­port such growth but are an ob­vi­ous link is the great task of na­tional in­te­gra­tion.”

Gov­ern­ment of the day had de­creed that “If the state-owned air­line is un­able to jus­tify op­er­a­tions to re­mote or in­ac­ces­si­ble parts be­cause of eco­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions which di­rectly re­late to ex­ist­ing over­heads, a so­lu­tion can be found in al­low­ing pri­vate or quasi-Gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions to take over this re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

There were many pri­vate car­ri­ers and State Gov­ern­ments both will­ing and ca­pa­ble of pro­vid­ing such ser­vices ef­fi­ciently and safely. Re­call the ef­forts of Ja­mair in the North and East, Sa­fari in the West and The Hindu in the South dur­ing In­dian Air­lines four-month ‘lock out’. And these ser­vices were will­ingly ex­tended, al­beit un­der the con­straints of op­er­at­ing el­derly and un­eco­nomic DC- 3 Dako­tas. “For many years now these and other po­ten­tial op­er­a­tors have ap­plied for per­mits to serve sta­tions not on the IA net­work. All these have, un­hap­pily, come to naught not be­cause the pro­pos­als were unattrac­tive, but be­cause the pow­ers that were re­mained in­dif­fer­ent or con­stantly changed their poli­cies to suit the hour, or sim­ply, dis­liked tak­ing a de­ci­sion.” Mean­while, the na­tion was de­nied this in­put to eco­nomic gain.

A New Year Gift

A new year gift on 2 Jan­uary 1976 came in the form of a pub­lic state­ment by the then Min­is­ter for Civil Avi­a­tion an­nounc­ing that the Gov­ern­ment had of­fered nine se­lect routes for op­er­a­tion of pas­sen­ger ser­vices by pri­vate air­lines. Pro­pos­als were in­vited and it was hoped that a fi­nal de­ci­sion would be taken within the year. Also men­tioned was that “a search for a suit­able third-level air­craft for op­er­at­ing on the feeder and sub-feeder routes, was in progress.” Also that, In­dian Air­lines would not need to ex­am­ine such air­craft, leav­ing the choice to the party in­volved and whose con­sid­er­a­tion would be de­pen­dent upon the in­fra­struc­ture of the area se­lected and not the least, upon guar­an­teed Gov­ern­ment pro­mo­tional poli­cies like sub­si­dies and fuel tar­iff re­duc­tions.

For some years too, var­i­ous of­fi­cial bod­ies and in­sti­tu­tions had con­ducted sur­veys and ex­am­ined the re­quire­ments for third-level air ser­vices in the coun­try. Then, in 1974 the Min­istry of De­fence com­mis­sioned a study on the fea­si­bil­ity of de­vel­op­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing a trans­port air­craft in­dige­nously to meet the re­quire­ment of both civil and mil­i­tary needs. Traf­fic fore­cast­ing stud­ies were a pre­lim­i­nary ne­ces­sity and this went into great depth in sur­vey­ing the pat­tern of trans­porta­tion – and la­tent po­ten­tial. The Study Group, com­posed of mem­bers from the DGCA, the Air Force, In­dian Air­lines, Depart­ment of De­fence Pro­duc­tion and Hindustan Aero­nau­tics, sub­mit­ted its rec­om­men­da­tions in June 1976. The con­clu­sion was that a third-level air ser­vice net­work was es­sen­tial, vi­able and prac­ti­cal. “The ser­vices must, how­ever, be di­rectly stim­u­lated by prag­matic pro­mo­tional poli­cies and the in­dus­try could be put on its feet dur­ing the for­ma­tive stages by nec­es­sary sub­si­dies. The In­dian aero­nau­ti­cal in­dus­try has the ex­per­tise and means to de­sign and de­velop a suit­able air­craft to meet the re­quire­ment.”

The Ra­tio­nale for Regional Air Ser­vices in In­dia

The study con­tin­ued : “In 1974, In­dia has a pop­u­la­tion of near 600 mil­lion ( 1.2 bil­lion in 2017 !) and while eighty per­cent are scat­tered amongst 576,000 vil­lages, nearly 110 mil­lion live in 2650 cities and towns. The land mass mea­sures 3,287,782 sq km and there are rail links cov­er­ing over 60,000 kilo­me­tres and sur­faced roads to­talling 1,150,000 kilo­me­tres. Much move­ment takes place by rail (es­ti­mated at 7.5 mil­lion pas­sen­gers per day) and road and the lack of air links makes any study of po­ten­tial vol­ume of air trav­ellers nec­es­sar­ily spec­u­la­tive, but the ab­sence of air traf­fic at the third level at present can­not ob­vi­ously be con­strued as lack of traf­fic po­ten­tial.”

“Still, it would be nec­es­sary to lay down cer­tain cri­te­ria and pa­ram­e­ters in or­der to iden­tify the po­ten­tial that re­mains un­tapped. Any pro­posed net­work should take the fol­low­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion: the ba­sic el­e­ment would be cities and towns with ex­ist­ing air­fields and these in­clude those on In­dian Air­lines net­work all towns and cities with a pop­u­la­tion over 80,000 should be in­cluded in­ter­city dis­tances could be pre­scribed by a lower bound of 50 km and up­per bound of 500 km, the for­mer be­ing as­sumed as the cut off dis­tance be­low which air travel is un­likely or un­nec­es­sary ex­cept where sur­face trans­port is non-

ex­is­tant such as in the hilly tracts of north­east­ern In­dia.

A study by the DGCA re­port­edly es­tab­lished the ex­is­tance of a def­i­nite po­ten­tial of 92 sec­tors but, tak­ing the above con­sid­er­a­tions into view, the list could cover 172 cities with an as­so­ci­ated set of over 2,300 city-pair con­nec­tions.

There were other fac­tors, of course, like pop­u­la­tion, habits, in­come lev­els, growth of in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion, affin­ity pa­ram­e­ters, in­ter modal travel time dif­fer­en­tials be­tween the city-pairs and a host of oth­ers. Ow­ing to the near com­plete ab­sence of his­tor­i­cal sta­tis­ti­cal data re­lat­ing to third level air traf­fic, no ex­trap­o­la­tion of past data into the fu­ture is pos­si­ble es­pe­cially when a quan­tam jump could be nat­u­ral when the nu­mer­ous vir­gin city-pair con­nec­tions at the 3rd level are con­sid­ered.

Per­haps the closet cor­re­la­tion that could be em­ployed would be through a time se­ries anal­y­sis of the dis­tri­bu­tion of pas­sen­ger traf­fic on the rail­ways (Air Con­di­tioned and First Class modes) and by pri­vate au­to­mo­biles, taxis, or deluxe buses on high­ways be­tween city-pairs. Mar­ket sur­veys have been car­ried out by the Na­tional Coun­cil of Ap­plied Eco­nomic Re­search (NCAER) in Ma­ha­rash­tra, at this State Gov­ern­ments re­quest, and a lim­ited sur­vey was con­ducted by Kar­nataka and these have in­di­cated the ex­is­tance of very high traf­fic po­ten­tial on the cho­sen routes — but not op­er­ated by In­dian Air­lines.

The Ten­ta­tive Start

Man­age­ment of the then In­dian Air­lines had of­ten ex­pressed that many of their regional routes were “un­eco­nomic and it may thus be prof­itable for IA to shed most of these and con­cen­trate on the trunk routes. The regional routes so shed could then form the ba­sis of the pro­posed na­tion wide third level air net­work to link the far flung cor­ners of the coun­try and these may be op­er­ated by sev­eral agen­cies, in both pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.”

This was ra­tio­nal and would bring about sev­eral ben­e­fits. Firstly, in­creased prof­itabil­ity for In­dian Air­lines, se­condly, and more im­por­tant in the na­tional con­text, the es­tab­lish­ment of fast air links to re­mote or in ac­ces­si­ble parts, fos­ter­ing ac­cel­er­ated eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and en­hanc­ing na­tional in­te­gra­tion. The fact that rapid com­mu­ni­ca­tions es­tab­lished and avail­able would mean a re­lief of in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial con­ges­tion, presently cen­tralised. Large num­bers of air­craft ply­ing be­tween out­ly­ing ar­eas would have a direct fall­out in terms of an en­larged so­phis­ti­cated tech­ni­cal base; a host of man­u­fac­tur­ing and over­haul­ing fa­cil­i­ties would spring up all over the coun­try to sup­port such aero­nau­ti­cal hard­ware and this would stim­u­late self-re­liance in this field.

Fi­nally, and not the least im­por­tant, such a net­work of air ser­vices and main­tained air­fields, would re­sult in an en­hanced de­gree of na­tional se­cu­rity, for both ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal con­tin­gen­cies mak­ing it prac­ti­cal to rapidly de­ploy armed forces in far flung or hith­erto in­ac­ce­si­ble ar­eas. “It is hoped that the early eight­ies will wit­ness the es­tab­lish­ment of third-level air ser­vices, link­ing scores of towns through­out the coun­try. Firstly, re­ac­ti­vat­ing the sta­tions ig­nored by In­dian Air­lines and, in­creas­ingly, bring­ing a hun­dred new points on the air map of the na­tion.”

Thus the ad­vent of Vayu­doot

De­scribed var­i­ously as the fastest grow­ing air car­rier and earn­ing the so­bri­quet of the world’s “big­gest lit­tle air­line”, the year 1986-87 was termed as one of mighty ex­pan­sion for Vayu­doot but also one which re­quired a sober pe­riod of con­sol­i­da­tion there­after. Un­doubt­edly the world’s most widely op­er­at­ing com­muter air­line, Vayu­doot came in to its own with re­ceipt of the first Dornier 228 regional air­liner in De­cem­ber 1984. Within the first few months of 1985, the third-level air­line had added 14 ad­di­tional sta­tions to its net­work, tak­ing the to­tal served to over 30. By the end of 1985, Vayu­doot was op­er­at­ing to 50 sta­tions in all four ge­o­graphic re­gions of In­dia and with its fleet of five Ger­man-supplied Dornier 228s aug­mented by another five as­sem­bled by HAL, plus trans­fer of seven HAL-BAE 748s and F.27s from In­dian Air­lines, the car­rier con­tin­ued to add new sta­tions through­out 1986 and early 1987 to reach the fig­ure of 87 points served by the au­tumn of 1987.

De­lib­er­a­tions and De­ci­sions

But, be­fore em­bark­ing on the next ex­pan­sion pe­riod, “it would be nec­es­sary to re­view the ra­tio­nale and im­per­a­tives which laid the foun­da­tions for In­dia’s third-level or com­muter or regional air­line.”

The ra­tio­nale for feeder air links within the vast coun­try was un­der­stood and pro­moted for nearly a decade be­fore Vayu­doot, In­dia’s regional or third-level air­line, came into be­ing in Jan­uary 1981. Suc­ces­sive min­is­ters for civil avi­a­tion had pe­ri­od­i­cally an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment was study­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of es­tab­lish­ing such air ser­vices to link hith­erto un­con­nected

points, par­tic­u­larly in the north-east; that var­i­ous op­tions as to the kind of air car­rier were be­ing ex­am­ined and that var­i­ous suit­able air­craft types were be­ing eval­u­ated.

In fact, it was af­ter the fifth suc­ces­sive com­mit­tee’s re­port that such an air­line took for­mal shape, as­sumed a name and be­gan air ser­vices, al­beit with bor­rowed feath­ers so to speak. It was upto the sixth com­mit­tee to se­lect the most ef­fi­cient and cost-ef­fec­tive air­craft to match the na­tion’s ob­jec­tives.

Most of the de­lib­er­a­tions took place through the sev­en­ties. In 1974, the gov­ern­ment had set up a mul­ti­dis­ci­pline com­mit­tee un­der Vivek Sinha (later Ad­di­tional Sec­re­tary DRDO) to not only ex­am­ine the re­quire­ment for such feeder air links but to iden­tify places to be air-con­nected, quan­tify the size, type and num­ber of air­craft re­quired and, fi­nally, de­ter­mine whether the in­dige­nous air­craft in­dus­try was ca­pa­ble of de­vel­op­ing and pro­duc­ing such an air­craft in the num­bers re­quired.

The an­swers were clear: the coun­try re­quired such regional air links for so­cial, eco­nomic and strate­gic rea­sons, over 50 points through­out the sub-con­ti­nent would even­tu­ally jus­tify air ser­vices and con­sid­er­ing the multi-pur­pose em­ploy­ment of a 18 to 20-seater light trans­port air­craft, well over 100 air­craft would be needed. Hindustan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited had the ex­per­tise and re­sources to un­der­take this na­tional task.

Even as the De­sign and De­vel­op­ment Bu­reau of HAL, un­der the di­rec­tion of then Di­rec­tor D&D SC Das, started pre­lim­i­nary de­sign stud­ies for such an air­craft, even­tu­ally la­belled the HAC-33 in 1976, the do­mes­tic car­rier In­dian Air­lines nom­i­nated their Plan­ning Man­ager, JK Chaud­huri, in 1977, to ini­ti­ate an ex­am­i­na­tion of third-level traf­fic po­ten­tial; iden­tify city-pairs to be con­nected, fre­quency of op­er­a­tion and the likely type of air­craft that could ful­fil the needs. Both re­ports were pos­i­tive in their con­clu­sion, and be­came the spring­board for a si­mul­ta­ne­ous ap­proach to­wards the ob­jec­tives of cre­at­ing third-level air links and hav­ing an in­dige­nous air­craft to serve them.

In May 1978, Hindustan Aero­nau­tics Ltd and Dornier of West Ger­many, signed a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing to de­sign, de­velop and man­u­fac­ture a light trans­port air­craft in­cor­po­rat­ing the ‘wing of new tech­nol­ogy’ evolved in Ger­many, with po­ten­tial to grow from the op­ti­mum 19-seater cat­e­gory to a 24-seater and even­tu­ally to a 30-plus-seater class. Dornier were a highly re­spected com­pany with roots in avi­a­tion his­tory and hav­ing at the time a sim­i­lar study for 19-24 seat light trans­port air­craft on their draw­ing boards. A large num­ber of de­sign en­gi­neers from HAL were nom­i­nated for joint stud­ies with Dornier at Friedrichshafen on the Lake of Con­stance in South­ern Ger­many in mid- 1978 and pos­i­tive rec­om­men­da­tions were framed for the Gov­ern­ment’s con­sid­er­a­tion.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously in 1978, In­dia’s Civil Avi­a­tion Min­istry con­sti­tuted the Gid­wani Com­mit­tee to ex­am­ine the man­ner in which the pro­posed third-level op­er­a­tions could be started bear­ing in mind the re­quire­ment of dif­fer­ent re­gions, po­ten­tial traf­fic and pri­or­i­ties, and whether In­dian Air­lines, or a sub­sidiary or a sep­a­rate pub­lic sec­tor cor­po­ra­tion or a joint sec­tor cor­po­ra­tion should be en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity. Fur­ther, the Gid­wani Com­mit­tee was to re­view the min­i­mum de­vel­op­men­tal work re­quired at air­fields to sup­port such third-level air op­er­a­tions and also short­list the most suit­able air­craft types from the tech­ni­cal and eco­nomic points of view. Fi­nally, the Com­mit­tee was to project es­ti­mated fi­nan­cial re­sults and whether the third-level op­er­a­tions could be sub­sidised by grants from the gov­ern­ment un­til such time as they be­came self-sus­tain­ing.

As there was lit­tle co­or­di­na­tion with HAL at the time, the Com­mit­tee re­stricted it­self to ex­am­in­ing those small pas­sen­ger air­craft as were avail­able in the world mar­ket and, in fact, the DHC- 6 Twin Ot­ter from Canada, the N-24 No­mad from Aus­tralia and later, the Short Sky­van from Bri­tain were eval­u­ated in typ­i­cal ter­rain and con­di­tions par­tic­u­larly in the North­East. “The re­sults were not spec­tac­u­lar”. In its view apart, the high-level Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee pro­claimed that third-level air ser­vices would not be con­sid­ered as pri­or­ity ex­cept in the dif­fi­cult North- East­ern area. This view was not nec­es­sar­ily unan­i­mous.

How­ever, at the gov­ern­ment level, there was still no co­or­di­nated ef­fort with HAL which con­tin­ued on stud­ies of their own, tak­ing a far more broad view on the re­quire­ment for such cat­e­gory of light trans­port air­craft, with a num­ber of de­fence ser­vices, as well as var­i­ous Pub­lic Sec­tor Un­der­tak­ings in need of a sim­i­lar class of air­craft by the mid-80s. These in­cluded the In­dian Air Force, the Navy, the Coast Guard and para-mil­i­tary ser­vices.

Ac­tu­ally, the Min­istry of Civil Avi­a­tion con­sti­tuted two more Com­mit­tees in 197980 with nearly the same terms of ref­er­ence as had ear­lier been en­trusted to Gid­wani: the Za­heer Com­mit­tee, fol­lowed by the Bra­ganza Com­mit­tee, were tasked to make rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the na­ture, type and size of air­craft, to iden­tify the sta­tions, other than the North-East­ern ones, which should be cov­ered by third-level air ser­vices, as­sess the num­ber of air­craft re­quired to serve the sta­tions and to rec­om­mend the air­field in­fra­struc­ture re­quired so that the en­tire coun­try could be cov­ered in phases over three years. The Bra­ganza Com­mit­tee sub­mited its re­port late in 1980.

Clearly, this too, fell short of what the gov­ern­ment de­sired: a larger view had to be taken, bring­ing in the re­quire­ments not only of the pro­posed third-level air­line, but also of the mul­ti­far­i­ous op­er­a­tors of such cat­e­gory of light trans­port air­craft in the coun­try and, vi­tally, the in­volve­ment of In­dia’s air­craft in­dus­try in such a pro­gramme.

Thus, in early 1981, the Menon Com­mit­tee was con­sti­tuted, with mem­bers nom­i­nated from the air­lines, (Capt Kamni Chadha, Chair­man, In­dian Air­lines), Air Force ( Air Mar­shal Kapil Chadha, AOC-in-C East­ern Air Com­mand) and in­dus­try (Mr J Bhan­dari, Chief of Plan­ning, Hindustan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited and later Gen­eral Man­ager, Kan­pur Di­vi­sion). The Menon Com­mit­tee had ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sions with po­ten­tial op­er­a­tors of such light trans­port air­craft, stud­ied the size and per­for­mance pa­ram­e­ters and worked out pro­jected re­quire­ments till the end of the cen­tury be­fore draw­ing a list of all avail­able air­craft types then ex­ist­ing : Bri­tish, Span­ish, Cana­dian, West Ger­man, Cze­choslo­vak, Brazil­ian, Amer­i­can and Aus­tralian. Var­i­ous cri­te­ria were ap­plied to each air­craft and four were even­tu­ally short­listed for ex­ten­sive tech­ni­cal, op­er­a­tional and fi­nan­cial eval­u­a­tion: the Short Sky­van, Casa 212, DHC-6 Twin Ot­ter and Dornier 228.

Nearly two years of ex­am­i­na­tion, flight eval­u­a­tion to the far­thest lim­its of per­for­mance and in­ten­sive com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial ne­go­ti­a­tions fol­lowed be­fore the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia con­firmed, in Au­gust 1983, se­lec­tion of the Dornier 228 as In­dia’s choice of light trans­port air­craft for Vayu­doot, the IAF, the Navy and Coast Guard plus other op­er­a­tors.

Dou­glas DC-4 Sky­mas­ter of In­dian Air­lines

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