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CAPA Report: India's air traffic management system prepares for transformational change

3rd June, 2014

Transformational change in governance, technology, processes and people is about to occur in India's ATM system.

With air traffic in India more than tripling in volume over the last decade, much of the focus in terms of capacity building has been on airport modernisation and construction. However, equally if not more critical, is the issue of airspace and air traffic management infrastructure.

With Indian aviation expected to enter a new growth phase, this critical component of the aviation value chain requires a strong focus. The following short extracts from the CAPA India ATM Report 2014 touch on some of the key issues covered. The full report is to be released on 30-Jun-2014.

Over the past 10 years the number of passengers handled by Indian airports has grown from 49 million in FY2004 to 169 million in FY2014. Total aircraft movements in India over this 10 year period increased at a compound annual growth rate of 9.1% to reach just over 1.5 million arriving and departing services in the 12 months ended 31-Mar-2014.

The CAPA India ATM Report 2014, to be released on 30-Jun-2014, is the most in-depth study ever conducted on the current status and outlook for air traffic management in India. This comprehensive report covers traffic movements and forecasts to FY2023; infrastructure status and requirements; inventory of equipment; manpower and training issues; benchmarking against international standards; implementation of new procedures including flexible use of airspace; impact of the GAGAN satellite based navigation system; and prospects for corporatisation of the Indian ANSP.

An early bird discount of almost 25% is available for orders and payments received by 15-Jun-2014. For more information contact capa@centreforaviation.com

This rapid growth will place significant pressure on air traffic management

Today, in addition to this local growth, Indian airspace handles approximately 400,000 annual over-flight movements.

Total Aircraft Movements at Indian Airports FY2004 to FY2014

CAPA projects that by FY2023 arriving and departing movements will have more than doubled again to 3.8 million. And in terms of over-flight movements, given India’s geographic location between two of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world, namely Asia and the Middle East, the upper level corridors through Indian airspace are also expected to become increasingly crowded.

In addition to the rapid growth being experienced at an all-India level for which system-wide responses are required, there are also challenges at individual airports related to runway capacity which require local solutions. Mumbai is a prime example of an airport where increasing the maximum number of runway movements per hour has been critical to prevent the airport from reaching saturation.

The magnitude of growth that is expected will create significant pressures on air traffic management in India to which ad hoc responses will not suffice. Long term solutions will require a new way of thinking with a fresh approach and an organisation that is focused not only on technology and equipment, but also people and training.

CAPA India ATM Report 2014 will include an in-depth traffic and operational review of ATM in India over the last 10 years, and present movements and traffic forecasts for the top 10 airports through to FY2023.

India’s air navigation services provider has commenced a major upgrade programme

India’s airspace covers 9.5 million square kilometres, of which just over 60% is oceanic, comprising regions over the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. Approximately 35% of the airspace in India is reserved for military use which does create challenges for commercial operations.

The airspace is divided into four primary Flight Information Regions (FIR) at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, with a sub-FIR at Guwahati.

Indian Airspace Flight Information Regions

Air navigation services (ANS) for civilian operations are provided by the state-owned Airports Authority of India (AAI). The AAI has a dual role, as both the air navigation services provider and as the operator of 125 airports across India, although around 50 of these are idle. A further five airports accounting for more than 50% of total traffic are managed by private operators, however the AAI provides air traffic control (ATC) services at these airport.

India has 26 civil enclaves, which are managed by the AAI. These are areas with a defence airfield which are designated for civilian use. At such airports the ATC services are provided by the Indian Air Force.

In FY14 the AAI generated INR21.8 billion (USD369 million) from ANS activities (route navigation facility charges, and terminal navigation and landing charges), up 12% in the three years since FY11. However, as a result of sharp growth in income from the lease of airports to PPP operators, particularly at Delhi and Mumbai, the ANS share of total revenue declined from 38.0% to 27.4% over the same period.

AAI Revenue from ANS Activities FY11 to FY14

The AAI has made important strides towards addressing the management of recent and projected growth. Key initiatives underway or completed include:

  • Restructuring of Indian airspace which commenced with upper level harmonisation of the Chennai FIR (and being rolled out across the other FIRs) and the integration of radars into the ATC automation system which has increased handling capacity;
  • Extended provision of VHD Data Link; DATIS, PDC, AIDC;
  • Automatic Dependence Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) has been extended from 14 to 21 locations providing enhanced surveillance and redundancy for radar coverage;
  • Improved DVOR/DME and ILS navigation equipment;
  • Extension of Performance Based Navigation: Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) and Standard Terminal Arrival Procedures (STARs) have been implemented at ten international airports and are in the process of being introduced at seven additional airports;
  • Introduction of Airport Collaborative Decision-Making (A-CDM) has improved on-time performance significantly. At Delhi Airport on-time departures have increased from 79.4% to 86.4%, and arrivals improved from 73.0% to 79.2%. A-CDM will be implemented at the six metro airports and eight non-metro airports by the end of 2015;
  • Radar separation within the terminal airspace of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad airports has been reduced from five to three nautical miles;
  • Issuance of pre-departure clearance to aircraft via a dedicated channel on a data link has been implemented at the six metro airports;
  • Continuous descent procedures have been implemented at Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad;
  • Construction of rapid-exit taxiways at several busy airports has reduced runway occupancy time which has enhanced traffic handling capacity;
  • Implementation of Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control Systems (A-SMGCS) at the largest international airports;
  • Three runway operations at Delhi Airport (increasing capacity from 60 to 75 hourly movements);
  • Advanced ATM automation systems have been introduced at 38 non metro airports as well as the 6 metros, providing tools that enhance safety and efficiency;
  • Continued progress towards the implementation of ground based and satellite based augmentation system, GAGAN.

CAPA India ATM Report 2014 will include comprehensive information on capacity planning for thenext 10 years; equipment introduced over the last 10 years; plans for equipment modernisation; capex plans for the next 5-10 years; review of technology strategy; status of skills availability and training capacity.

Satellite-based navigation system is the flagship project

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) along with Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been jointly developing an Indian Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) - GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) - to provide seamless air traffic management over Indian Air Space in line with ICAO’s Future Air Navigation System requirement.

 GAGAN is intended to provide improved accuracy, availability and integrity necessary to enable users to rely on GPS for all phases of flight, from en route through to approach for all airports within the GAGAN coverage area.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had approved a budget for the development and implementation of GAGAN of INR7.74 billion of which the AAI was to contribute almost 80%, with the balance to come from ISRO. Approximately INR5 billion has been spent to date.

Benefits from the implementation of GAGAN are expected to include:

  • Ability to operate more direct routes and reduce fuel burn;
  • Enhanced safety due to increased precision approaches;
  • Potential cost savings due to the elimination of ground equipment;
  • Improved navigation coverage in remote and oceanic airspace;
  • Reduced workload for flight crew and air traffic controllers;
  • Optimised airspace utilisation due to the reduced separation.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India provisionally certified GAGAN to Required Navigation Performance, 0.1 i.e. accuracy to 0.1 nautical miles in Dec-2013. The objective is to attain APV1/1.5 certification which will allow the system to offer precision approaches in India.

Aircraft, crews, runways, approach procedures and separation procedures and systems must be certified by the national regulatory authority before the system can be used operationally. GAGAN is expected to become operational from 2015.

CAPA India ATM Report 2014 will include the latest updates on the operation of GAGAN, including costs and benefits for key stakeholders.

Flexible use of India's airspace will deliver significant efficiencies

India has pursued a number of initiatives to optimise airspace capacity including enhanced radar surveillance, supplemented by ADS-B; the introduction of air traffic flow management procedures and collaborative decision making at the six metro airports; and the implementation of systems that enhance route trajectories such as flexible use of airspace (FUA).

Approximately 35% of India’s airspace is not available for use by civilian operators. In the case of the Delhi FIR this increases to 70%. This restriction imposes the need to operate more circuitous routings, increasing fuel burn, costs and emissions.

However in 2012 the Ministries of Civil Aviation and Defence reached an agreement to progressively introduce FUA. This approach is “subject to ensuring adequate safeguards in the system to prevent inadvertent leaks of military information and dissemination of any information on military aviation activities.”

Since FUA was introduced this has led to better availability of seven routes for dynamic flight planning through military controlled airspace.

Four entry-exit way points at common FIR boundaries have been set up to support independent traffic flows. Other than this, conditional arrival/departure routes have been set up through Special Use Airspace (SUA) at Delhi, Chennai and Cochin. This initiative has led to radar information sharing between the AAI and the Indian Air Force at Delhi, Tambaram, Bangalore and Kolkata, while AAI provides navigation aids at these defence airfields.

Plans for a National High Level Airspace Policy Board

In order to expand the level of cooperation, plans call for a National High Level Airspace Policy Board to establish procedures for allocation of airspace. The board is to consist of multiple stakeholders including the Ministry of Civil Aviation; Ministry of Defence; Indian Air Force; Airports Authority of India; Directorate General of Civil Aviation; and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

CAPA India ATM Report 2014 will include analysis of the status of status of flexible use of airspace, including challenges with implementation, benefits achieved, likelihood of further expansion, impact on routings; key objectives of Military Liaison Units; planned operational model for the future Joint Control Analysis Centre; information on the AAI’s Aircraft Operations Control Centre; trends in over-flight routings; roll-out plans for PBN/RNAV; analysis of Q routes processes and procedures and cost-benefit analysis; integration of collaborative decision making and air traffic flow management systems.

AAI priorities range from designing national airspace systems down to addressing local capacity issues

The AAI’s responsibilities require it to maintain both a holistic perspective of the entire Indian airspace as well as airport-specific issues. Mumbai is a prime example of how airside capacity can have a major impact not just at a local level but nationally.

Until 2010 Mumbai was the busiest airport in India. However its airside configuration limited it to a maximum of around 32 aircraft movements per hour. By 2010/11 Mumbai was operating at close to this level for almost 19 hours a day, leaving it severely slot constrained except between midnight and 5am. Traffic growth was curtailed and the airport was overtaken by Delhi, as both Air India and Jet Airways announced plans to shift their hubs to India’s capital.

The airport’s new T2 will expand the airport’s terminal capacity to 40 million passengers once fully commissioned. But at 32 runway movements an hour the airport would have struggled to support enough airline activity to generate 40 million passengers.

NATS UK was engaged as a consultant to help decongest the airside, which included the construction of rapid exist procedures, and to assist with the implementation of new flight paths and procedures. As a result the airport is now able to handle peaks of just over 40 aircraft movements per hour and is targeting to increase this further to 46-48 movements.

Pattern of Scheduled Hourly Aircraft Movements at Mumbai Airport 27-May-2014

A detailed analysis of the structural runway and airside capacity of at least the 40 largest airports in the country is required to assist with forward planning for infrastructure requirements. At a national level it is necessary to identify as early as possible where and when capacity constraints are likely to emerge at a given airport and to determine whether these can be addressed through upgrading of the existing infrastructure or the deployment of new technology, or if in fact a new airport will be required.

Availability of skilled manpower is critical

In order to be keep pace with growth requirements the AAI will need to ensure that it has appropriate systems in place to recruit, train and retain controllers and engineers. The ANS division currently employs 2,144 air traffic controllers. Despite the recruitment of 800 controllers between 2010 and 2012 the AAI remains 10-20% below its sanctioned strength.

Air Traffic Controllers employed by Region

 ATC Zone

Air Traffic Controllers

Northern Region

652

Southern Region

628

Western Region

513

Eastern Region

259

North Eastern Region

92

Total

2,144

Detailed estimates for the future requirements for controllers are critical. This analysis should take into account the projected growth in traffic, the impact of new technology, and the expected attrition of manpower as a result of controllers retiring or moving to other geographies or industries. The DGCA has been planning to introduce licensing of air traffic controllers, the implications of which need to be considered. It has been suggested that this could increase the mobility of controllers and make them more susceptible to being recruited by foreign ANSPs, particularly in the Gulf.

And the next generation of employees is not as wedded to the concept of picking and sticking with an industry for life. Switching between sectors will become increasingly common and this in itself will increase the demand for training as staff turnover is likely to be higher than in the past.

The difference in salaries paid to controllers in India compared with overseas markets is significant, particularly in terms of the base remuneration. Amongst the 23 ANSPs participating in the CANSO Global Air Navigation Service Performance Report 2013, the AAI had by far the lowest average air traffic controller salaries at USD20,000 compared with an average for the sample of USD130,000. Although the differential is narrowed once non-cash components are included. For example, Indian controllers receive attractive housing and health insurance benefits.

The salary gap for air traffic controllers is notable in contrast to the labour market situation for another skilled aviation role, namely pilots, with Indian carriers paying close to the same levels offered by European or North American airlines.

Although low by international standards, the remuneration for air traffic controllers is considered competitive for public sector positions in India. However, if the AAI wants to continue to recruit high quality candidates it will increasingly need to compete with private sector employers for the brightest science and engineering graduates and this may result in increased labour costs going forward. It will also require an outreach programme to engage more actively with school leavers and university students to promote the attraction of a career in air traffic control.

The capacity of the available training infrastructure to support the development of the requisite skills from ab initio through to upgrading the capabilities of existing controllers on new technologies and procedures must also be determined. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has a dedicated college at Allahabad and an additional facility at Hyderabad, but significant investment is required in order to update equipment and install the latest simulation technology.

Growth challenges call for a new governance structure for the ANSP

The AAI has performed its ANS responsibilities with great care and commitment. And by global standards it is a relatively efficient, low cost provider of services to airlines, due in large part to the impact of salary costs.

As a result of this labour cost advantage, the AAI’s consolidated charges for an A320 aircraft travelling a distance of 1000 km between two airports is USD243 compares to an average of USD854 for the ANSPs under consideration.

Example Consolidated Price (USD) per 1000 km Flight for A320 by ANSP

The competitive rates however mean that the AAI has less revenue available for investment in equipment, people and training in order to meet its responsibilities against the backdrop of fast growth and rapidly evolving technology. Similarly, give the dual role of the AAI as an ANSP and an airport operator and developer means that that there are competing claims on that capital.

Given the expected future direction of the sector, and in line with international trends, the time is now approaching to develop a new model rather than ad hoc revisions to the existing structure.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has indicated that it will accept the recommendation of a consultant to corporatise the ANS division of the AAI. This would involve hiving-off the division as an independent autonomous body with separate financials. The new ANS entity would be subject to stringent performance parameters and monitoring mechanisms. However, execution of this plan has been delayed due to concerns about the impact on the AAI’s revenue.

As and when it proceeds, the corporatised entity should be headed by a domain expert and not a bureaucrat. In addition there is a need to implement a new culture focused on performance, cost efficiency, service and environmental sustainability whilst maintaining safety as the primary objective. This will require greater engagement and collaboration with airline customers.

The AAI may need to appoint a global technical advisor for a period of 3-5 years during the transition from its current insular environment to a more customer-focused, service-driven and accountable organisation.

CAPA India ATM Report 2014 to be released on 30-Jun-2014 will present detailed financial analysis of ANS operations in India; review operational performance and service quality; outline the likely structure of the corporatisation model; and present a risk analysis. For more information contact capa@centreforaviation.com

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