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The financial health of Air India

May 31st, 2017 No comments

Recently there have been news reports about the NITI Aayog submitting its recommendations on improving the financial health of Air India to the Ministry of Finance.[1],[2]  The Civil Aviation Ministers have also mentioned that the Ministry will soon propose a roadmap for the rejuvenation of the national airline.  While the NITI Aayog report is not out in the public domain yet, we present a few details on the financial health of the airline.

Finances of Air India

In 2015-16, Air India earned a revenue of Rs 20,526 crore and registered losses of Rs 3,837 crore.  As of March 31, 2015, the total debt of Air India was at Rs 51,367 crore.[3]  This includes Rs 22,574 crore outstanding on account of aircraft loans.  The figure below shows the losses incurred by Air India in the last few years (2007-16).

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According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, reasons for Air India’s losses include: (i) the adverse impact of exchange rate variation due to the weakening of Indian Rupee, (ii) high interest burden, (iii) increase in competition, especially from low cost carriers, and (iv) high fuel prices.[4]  The National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC), in its report in 2013, had observed that with the increase in the number of airlines in the market, Air India has been struggling to make a transition from a monopoly market to a competitive one.[5]  These struggles have been primarily regarding improving its efficiency, and competing with the private airlines.

Turnaround Plan and Financial Restructuring

In order to bail out the company, the government had approved the Turnaround Plan (TAP) and Financial Restructuring Plan (FRP) of Air India in April 2012.[6]  Under the plans, the government would infuse equity into Air India subject to meeting certain milestones such as Pay Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation), on time performance, fleet utilisation, yield factor (average fare paid per mile, per passenger), and rationalisation of the emolument structure of employees.7  The equity infusion included financial support towards the repayment of the principal, as well as the interest payments on the government loans for aircraft acquisition.  Under the TAP/FRP, the central government was to infuse Rs 30,231 crore till 2020-21.  As of 2016-17, the Ministry has infused an equity amount of Rs 24,745 crore.[7]

In 2017-18, the Ministry has allocated Rs 1,800 crore towards Air India which is 67% of the Ministry’s total budget for the year.[8]  However, this amount is 30% lower than the TAP commitment of Rs 2,587 crore.3  In 2016-17, while Air India had sought and equity infusion of Rs 3,901 crore, the government approved Rs 2,465 crore as the equity infusion.[9]  The Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture examining the 2017-18 budget estimates noted that reducing the equity infusion in Air India might adversely affect the financial situation of the company.[10]  It recommended that the government must allocate the amount committed under TAP.  The Ministry had also observed that due to reduction of equity infusion, Air India has to arrange funds through borrowing which costs additional amount of interest to be paid by the government.[11]

As per the Ministry, Air India has achieved most of the targets set out in TAP.[12]  Despite running into losses, it achieved an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16.[13]  Air India’s performance in some of the segments are provided in the table below.

Table 1: Air India’s performance

2011-12 2014-15
Overall Network On Time Performance (measures adherence to time schedule) 68.2% 72.7%
Passenger Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation of the airline) 67.9% 73.7%
Network Yield achieved (in Rs/ RPKM)* 3.74 4.35
Number of Revenue Passengers (in million) 13.4 16.9
Operating Loss (in Rs crore) 5,139 2,171

* Note: RPKM or Revenue Passenger Kilometre performed refers to number of seats for which the carrier has earned revenue.

Sources: Lok Sabha Questions; PRS.

The NTDPC had observed that with its excessive and unproductive manpower, failure to invest in the technology required to keep it competitive, and poor operations, Air India’s future looks risky.  It had also questioned the rationale for a national airline.  It had suggested that the government must frame a decisive policy with regard to Air India, and clarify its future accordingly.5  It had recommended that Air India’s liabilities should be written off and be dealt with separately, and the airline should be run on complete operational and financial autonomy.5

Need for competitive framework in the sector

With the entrance of several private players in the market, the domestic aviation market has grown significantly in the last decade.  The market share of an airline is directly related to its capacity share in the market.  While private carriers have added capacity in the domestic market, the capacity induction (adding more aircrafts) of Air India has not kept up with the private carriers.  This has resulted in decrease in market share of Air India from 17% in 2008-09 to 14% in 2016-17.[14]

The Committee looking at the competitive framework of the civil aviation sector had observed that the national carrier gets preferential treatment through access to government funding, and flying rights.[15]  It had recommended that competitive neutrality should be ensured between private carriers and the national carrier, which could be achieved by removing the regulations that provide such preferential treatment to Air India.  The NTDPC had also noted that the presence of a state-owned enterprise should not distort the market for other private players.6  It had recommended that the Ministry should consider developing regulations that improve the overall financial health of the airline sector.

While Air India’s performance has improved following the TAP, along with the equity infusion from government, its debt still remains high and has been gradually increasing.  In light of this, it remains to be seen what the government will propose with regard to the rejuvenation of the national airline, and ensure a competitive and fair market for all the players in the airline market.

[1] “Govt to prepare Air India revival plan within 3 months, amid calls for privatization”, Livemint, May 31, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/0koi5Hyidj1gVD3wOWTruM/Govt-says-all-options-open-for-Air-India-revival.html.

[2] “Air India selloff: Fixing airline’s future is more important than past”, Financial Express, May 31, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/why-fixing-air-indias-future-more-important-than-past/693777/.

[3] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 382, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=28931&lsno=16.

[4] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 353, Ministry of Civil Aviation, November 17, 2016, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=40733&lsno=16.

[5] “Volume 3, Chapter 3: Civil Aviation”, India Transport Report: Moving India to 2032, National Transport Development Policy Committee, June 17, 2014, http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/NTDPC/volume3_p1/civil_v3_p1.pdf.

[6] “Government Approves Financial Restructuring and Turn Around Plan of Air India”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), April 12, 2012, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=82231.

[7] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 472, Ministry of Civil Aviation, April 6, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51752&lsno=16.

[8] Notes on Demands for Grants 2017-18, Demand no 9, Ministry of Civil Aviation, http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/eb/sbe9.pdf.

[9] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 4809, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 30, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51108&lsno=16.

[10] “244th report: Demand for Grants (2017-18) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, March 17, 2017, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Transport,%20Tourism%20and%20Culture/244.pdf.

[11] “218th report: Demand for Grants (2015-16) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, April 28, 2015.

[12] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 307, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/7/AU307.pdf.

[13] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 1566, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 9, 2017, http://www.loksabha.nic.in/Members/QResult16.aspx?qref=47532.

[14] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 312, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 23, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=49742&lsno=16.

[15] Report of the Committee Constituted for examination of the recommendations made in the Study Report on Competitive Framework of Civil Aviation Sector in India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, June 2012, http://civilaviation.gov.in/sites/default/files/moca_001870_0.pdf.

FAQ on Civil Aviation

October 22nd, 2012 1 comment

According to a press release, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is considering abolishing the development fee being levied at the Delhi and Mumbai airports.  The Ministry has already asked the Kolkata and Chennai airports not to levy a development fee.  According to the Ministry, this is being done to make air travel more affordable.  Currently, development fee charged at the Delhi Airport ranges from Rs 200 to Rs 1300.  At the Mumbai airport, the fee ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 600.

It is pertinent to note that though, the Ministry has proposed abolishing the development fee, the airport operators may still levy a user development fee.  In this blog we discuss some of the aspects of development fee and user development fee.

What is a development fee and a user development fee?

Development Fee (DF) is primarily intended to fund the establishment or upgradation of an airport.  It is intended to bridge the gap between the cost of the project and the finance available with the airport operator.  Currently only the Mumbai and Delhi Airports levy a DF. However, there are other types of tariffs, such as a user development fee (UDF), which may be levied by the airports. UDF is generally regarded as a revenue enhancing measure.  It is levied by the airport operators to meet operational expenditure

Section 22 A of the Airports Authority Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) gives the Airport Authority of India (AAI) the power to levy and collect a development fee on embarking passengers.  The Act provides that the development fee can be utilised only for: (a) funding or financing the upgradation of the airport; (b) establishing a new airport in lieu of the airport at which is levied; and (c) investing in shares of a private airport in lieu of an existing airport .

Unlike DF,  UDF is not levied and collected under the Airport Authority of India Act but under Rule 89 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. Under the Aircraft Rules, UDF may be levied and collected by either the AAI or the private operator.   According to the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority, UDF is levied to ensure that the airport operators can get a fair return on their investments.

What is the role of the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority?

In 2008, the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) was established to regulate aeronautical tariffs.  Among others, AERA’s functions include determining the amount of DF and UDF for major airports.  In case of non-major airports, the UDF shall be determined by the central government.

What has been the role of the Supreme Court?

In 2009, the central government permitted the Mumbai and Delhi Airports to levy a DF.  The rate of was prescribed by the central government and not by AERA.  In 2011, the Supreme Court held that this levy of DF was illegal.  The Court based its decision on two grounds.

Firstly, the court held that the rate of DF has to be determined by the AERA and not the central government.  Secondly, the Court held that the power to levy the fee lies with the Airport Authority as the development fee can only be utilised for the performance of the purpose specified in the Act.  The court held that while the Airport Authority can utilise the development fee for any of the functions prescribed in the Act, it can assign the power to levy a development fee to a private operator only for funding or financing the upgradation or expansion of the airport.

Can private operators collect a development fee and a user development fee?

In 2003, the government amended the Airport Authority of India Act to allow the AAI with the prior permission of the central government to: (i) to lease the premises of airports to private entities to undertake some of the functions of the AAI; (ii) levy and collect a development fee on the embarking passengers at a rate that may be prescribed.

Till 2011, the power to collect the development fee lay only with the Airport Authority.  However with the notification of the Airports Authority of India (Major Airports) Development Fees Rules, 2011, private operators have also been permitted to collect the development fee.

 

Clear signal for FDI in Civil Aviation

September 19th, 2012 2 comments

On September 14, 2012, the central government announced that foreign airlines would now be allowed to invest up to 49% in domestic airlines.  Under the policy announced by the government, the ceiling of 49% foreign investment includes foreign direct investment and foreign institutional investment.  Prior to investing in a domestic airline, foreign airlines would have to take approval of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.  Additionally, the applicant will also be required to seek security clearance from the Home Ministry.

In 2000, the government first permitted foreign direct investment up to 40% in the domestic airline sector.  However, no foreign airline was allowed to invest either directly or indirectly in the domestic airlines industry.  Non Resident Indians were permitted to invest up to 100%. Furthermore, the foreign investor was required to take prior approval of the government before making the investment.  Subsequently, the central government eased the foreign investment norms in this sector.  As of April 2012, foreign direct investment is permitted in all civil aviation sectors.  The Civil Aviation sector in India includes airports, scheduled and non-scheduled domestic passenger airlines, helicopter services / seaplane services, ground handling Services, maintenance and repair organizations, flying training institutes, and technical training institutions.  Foreign airlines were not permitted to invest either directly or indirectly in domestic passenger airlines.  However, they are permitted to invest in cargo companies and helicopter companies.

Investment by foreign airlines in the domestic airline industry has been a long standing demand of domestic airlines.  According to the Report of the Working Group on Civil Aviation for formulation of twelfth five year plan (2012-17), India is currently the 9th largest civil aviation market in the world.  Between 2008 and 2011, passenger traffic (domestic and international) and freight traffic increased by a compounded annual growth rate of 7% and 11% respectively. The traffic growth (passenger and freight) at 18% exceeded the growth rate seen in China (9.7%) and Brazil (7.5%), and was higher than the global growth rate of 3.8%.

According to the Centre for Civil Aviation, until February 2012, India had the second highest domestic air traffic growth.   However, due to the crisis faced by Air India and Kingfisher, the passenger numbers have declined in June-July 2012.  India was the only major domestic market that failed to show an expansion in demand in June 2012, as compared to the previous year.  Despite the rapid growth, the financial performance of airlines in India has been poor. According to the Report of the Working Group on Civil Aviation, the industry is expected to have a debt burden of approximately USD 20 billion in 2011-2012.  According to the same report, during the period 2007-2010 India’s airlines suffered an accumulated loss of Rs 26,000 crores.

According to the government, investment by foreign airlines shall bring in the much needed funds and expertise required by the domestic industry.  However, as per to some analysts, foreign investment alone cannot solve the problem.  According to them, the major cost impacting the growth of the industry is the high cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel.  As per the press release by the government on June 6, 2012,  ATF accounts for 40% of the operating cost of Indian carriers.  In comparison, fuel constitutes only 20% of the cost for international carriers. ATF in India is priced, on an average, 60% higher than international prices.  This is due to the high rate of taxation imposed on ATF by some states.  In most states, the VAT on ATF is around 25-30%.