Bengaluru: In their opening remarks at the International Conference on the Future of Aviation and Aerospace, hosted in virtual mode by IIM Bangalore’s Office of Executive Education Programmes this morning, a galaxy of eminent speakers including Dr Kota Harinarayana, Former Programme Director and Chief Designer, Tejas, Light Combat Aircraft, Hari K Marar, Managing Director and CEO, BIAL, and Prof. Rishikesha T Krishnan, Director, IIM Bangalore, focused on the silver lining of the pandemic – recovery and growth in the sector in India, and opportunities for growth and collaboration.
Professor Rishikesha T Krishnan, Professor of Strategy and Director, IIM Bangalore, said: “I am a long-time student of aviation and have been involved in aviation-related research studies. In 2008, I wrote a case study on the Indian aviation industry which was going through interesting times. Recently, I tried to update that case to 2019. This exercise proved to be sobering – as none of the entrants of the first wave of liberalisation of the sector are no longer in existence. This tells us that the airline industry was, is and continues to be a very challenging industry to operate in. It is only due to the support of governments that they are able to keep their heads above water. However, it is interesting to see that demand exists in a big way.”
In India, Professor Rishikesha Krishnan pointed out, there has been a gradual recovery in demand post the pandemic. “It is up to the airlines and the industry to find ways to operate sustainably and successfully. Among the bright spots, in India, are the initiatives of the government to connect small towns in different parts of India to big cities. Fractional ownership is a new concept that is also interesting. Safety, by and large, is under control. Challenges include infrastructure, alternate fuel and climate change. In India, there are other aspects like manufacturing. Thanks to government programmes, we are seeing increasing interest in the aircraft manufacturing business. The new defence export policy is also a bright spot,” he added, offering a special word of thanks to Dr Kota Harinarayana, whom he described as “father of the light combat aircraft in India”.
Welcoming the delegates, Professor S Raghunath, Programme Director For the General Management Programme For Aviation and Aerospace, IIM Bangalore, and Conference Chair, talked about how the improvement in cargo revenue will not necessarily make up for the loss in passenger revenue. Given the semi-fixed nature of many airlines costs, there will be a challenge in terms of cash burn and there could be failures among medium and smaller airlines unless the government comes in to bail out their debt for equity.
He said, “We must reinvent the business model focusing on higher resilience and true grit to support parsimony and minimalism and therefore make changes in aircraft fleet composition, promoting regional transportation.” For example, Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) are recovering faster than full service carriers due to their reduced exposure to premium traffic, and less reliance on long haul routes and widebody aircraft. There is data that shows that non-metro to metro traffic and metro to non-metro traffic is growing faster than metro to metro traffic for LCCs in India. International demand, in particular, is likely to take some time to recover, which will put downward pressure on capacity. It is an ecosystem impact, including airports facing similar challenges as airlines. “Lesser passenger footfalls will affect the level of retail consumption and therefore revenue generation in all international airports throughout the world,” Professor Raghunath explained.
In their video message, Professor Stéphanie Lavigne, Dean, TBS, France, and Professor Digout Jacques, Director of Executive Education and Professor of Digital Marketing, TBS, France, described the significance of Toulouse in France in world aviation history and developing innovation in the sector and listed the offerings of Toulouse Business School that has over 5000 students, 200 faculty and collaborations with prestigious schools across the world. “Delegates of the Aerospace MBA offered with IIMB get to leverage our fantastic locational advantage,” they added.
‘Prepare, Stimulate and Sustain”: BIAL’s Hari Marar
In his keynote address, Hari K Marar, Managing Director and CEO, BIAL, highlighted the exponential pace of change, where the pandemic has added a layer of complexity, in exacerbating challenges in capacity and capability. “We had only been playing catch up as far as capacity was concerned. But the pandemic-induced lull in traffic has given us the opportunity to sit back and take stock, plan and collaborate to revitalize the aviation sector to ensure that we really realize our true potential.”
Focusing on the model of ‘Prepare, Stimulate and Sustain’, Hari Marar spoke of ways to enhance infrastructure, airspace, people and digital capacity. Calling for special financing vehicles to find expansion and special skill centres to get people ready from a talent perspective, he said it was incumbent on developers to keep costs down even during expansion. “Technology is a game changer when it comes to the way people travel,” he observed, adding that schemes like digi-yatra and biometric immigration clearance must be embraced. “Multiple regulatory agencies ion aviation are bottlenecks. The time has come to consolidate and create a single body to avoid working in silos and at cross purposes,” Marar said, adding that preferential rates for aviation should be seen as a necessity to stimulate the sector. Open skies, as a policy, he argued, should be the default arrangement between countries. Appealing to everyone in the ecosystem to embrace the principles of sustainability, he listed the sustainability efforts made at BIAL.
‘India’s edge, the 90-seater aircraft segment’: Dr Kota Harinarayana
The International Virtual Conference of the Future of Aviation and Aerospace 2021 featured five panels, anchored by several C-suite executives from Aviation and Aerospace companies and faculty from IIM Bangalore.
The first panel on ‘COVID and its challenges and lessons for the future’, was chaired by Prof. Christophe Benaroya, Professor of Marketing and Head of Aerospace & Mobility Center of Excellence, TBS, France and featured Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Govt. of India, Dr. Kota Harinarayana, Former Programme Director and Chief Designer, Tejas, Light Combat Aircraft, Chandra Shekhar Y, Sr. Director – Global Sourcing Strategy and Industrial Cooperation, GE Aviation, and Michel Merluzeaum, Director of Market Analysis & Strategy, Commercial Defence Markets, AIR (Air Insight Research).
Dr Kota Harinarayana, Padma Shri awardee (2002), preferred to focus on the silver lining of the pandemic – recovery and growth. “IMF has announced that the Indian economy will be growing at over 11 per cent – the highest in the world. The aviation sector in India is sure to benefit from this growth as potential in India is very high. FDI into aviation has been growing. This shows what the world thinks about the aviation sector in India.” Moving on aircraft manufacturing in the country, he listed a few initiatives and said NAL has got permission to design 90-seater aircrafts and by 2026 these aircraft are expected to be operational to connect hilly, small towns and give a fillip to tourism as well. “This is a great opportunity for international collaboration for OEMs,” he observed. On military aviation, he spoke of HAL’s recent large order of 83 Tejas aircraft received from the IAF. “Start-ups in the area of unmanned air vehicles are doing encouraging work in agriculture, defence, etc.”
Describing the effect of the pandemic on the aerospace supply chain, Chandra Shekhar Y, Sr. Director – Global Sourcing Strategy and Industrial Cooperation, GE Aviation, he said that while international traffic is yet to recover, freight traffic had gone up significantly. “In 2018 and 2019, there was a huge order backlog among OEMs. But the pandemic created an excess in inventory. Most OEMs are now rationalizing their supply chains. We can expect to see strong M&A activities and buyouts. Digitalization has affected every arm of the sector. The industry will also face the challenge of handling emissions once we come out of the pandemic. We can expect more hybrid and green technologies in the future,” he explained.
Agreeing with the views of Dr Kota Harinarayana, Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Govt. of India, said the pandemic showed how the Indian aviation and aerospace sector adapted, thrived and created new opportunities for itself. “On the passenger front, non-fliers came into the flying arena with the introduction of low pricing bands. On the cargo side, extremely hardworking, poorly paid and silent people in the airport handled massive cargo during the pandemic. Not one of them complained,” he said, adding that government approvals were also fast-tracked.
IIMB and the aviation connection
“The Executive Education Programmes Office, IIM Bangalore, in partnership with Toulouse Business School, Toulouse, France has been offering the General Management Programme on Aviation and Aerospace since 2015. As part of this partnership, IIMB and TBS organize the International Conference on Future of Aviation and Aerospace as an annual event to bring together industry experts, researchers and scholars to deepen the understanding of the current state and future of the sector,” said Madan Mohan Raj, Chief Programme Officer, Executive Education Programmes, IIM Bangalore, and Coordinator of the conference.
In the prevailing circumstances, for the health and safety of panellists and delegates, the conference was hosted on a virtual platform this year. Like last year, BIAL is a key sponsor of this conference.