India: The Ground Support Revolution

A macro introduction to the Indian aviation and ground support industries.


At present, India has 455 airports/civil enclaves and airstrips. About 124 airports are managed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) comprising 85 operational airports/civil enclaves and 39 non-operational airports/civil enclaves. The 85 operational airports are comprised of 13 international airports, seven customs airports, 23 domestic airports and 42 other airports.

In addition to the above 124, three airports – Cochin, Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay) are managed by private companies. However, the AAI continues to retain a certain status at these three airports.

Indian airports handled 73 million passengers during 2005-06, registering an increase of 24 percent over 2004-05, the highest ever growth achieved. The traffic growth in 2004-05 over 2003-04 stood at a level of 21 percent which is also a significant increase. The sector is poised to grow at a rate of more than 15 percent over the next four to five years. The growth in passenger traffic has been driven by the launch of low-cost carrier operations in 2003-04.

The metro airports handle nearly 75 percent of total passenger traffic, with Delhi and Mumbai airports together handling nearly 47 percent of total passenger traffic. The recent upsurge in passenger traffic has been driven by four factors: rising GDP (gross domestic product), the entry of low-cost carriers, a booming tourism industry and the liberalization of international bilateral agreements.

The increase in aircraft movement and freight traffic has been lower than that in passenger traffic. Aircraft movement saw 17 percent growth in 2005-06 over 2004-05 while freight traffic grew 10 percent.

Rising traffic has highlighted the inadequacy of airport infrastructure. Indian airports do not match up to international standards. The ground infrastructure is saturated, particularly at metro airports. It is estimated that a sum of about Rs.400 billion (US $9 billion) will be required to improve the infrastructure and ground handling facilities at airports across India. This has led to an increased focus on the modernization of existing airports as well as the construction of new ones.


The airports are served by 13 scheduled airlines and 48 non-scheduled carriers. The scheduled airlines are Air India, Air India Express, Indian Airlines, Alliance Air, Jet Airways, Sahara Airlines, Deccan Aviation, Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet, Paramount Airways, Go Airlines, IndiGo Airlines (which began operations in August 2006) and Blue Dart Aviation Limited. Apart from these, Indus Airways has received the go ahead to operate scheduled air transport services.

The Indian Government's new Civil Aviation Policy is also likely to have a policy made by the Civil Aviation Ministry on ground handling. The alliances mentioned hereinafter in this article are quickly falling into place to meet further liberalization in this market where the entry of new companies has not only begun, but will continue to be inevitable in the forthcoming years.

There have been several new alliances and joint ventures which have been created in India for the purposes of ground handling—some of them currently are loose alliances yet to be formalized, whereas some have been formally announced with international majors. Following is an overall perspective of the situation.


The Indian ground handling scenario has primarily been controlled by Air India, Indian Airlines and Cambata Aviation for international carriers and self handled by carriers like Air France and Lufthansa through their subsidiary called Globe Ground India.

Air India and Indian Airlines are India's national government-owned airlines that operate ground handling services at virtually all of the 80 odd active airports in India.

Cambata Aviation is primarily located at Mumbai (Bombay) and Delhi, with a recent presence in Chennai.

Various smaller airlines operating narrow-bodied aircraft primarily carry out self-handling work for their captive requirements.

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