NEW DELHI: The Red Sea crisis has seen air freight from India has more than doubled in the last few months, putting the country on track to meeting its target of 10 million tonnes (MT) by 2030-31. The country saw its peak air freight at over 3.5 MT in 2017-18 and post Covid saw number climb back to 3.5 MT. Air Cargo Forum of India (ACFI) president Yashpal Sharma said sorting out two issues — cutting down time for trans-shipment carriage and allowing double dipping (going to more than one city in India) by foreign freighter aircraft — will be key to meeting the target in the next five years.
“Less than 2% of freight globally moves by air. Following the Red Sea crisis, even a half per cent shift will mean a huge jump for carriage by air. We have a huge opportunity in India and need to overcome the twin challenges as trans-shipment currently takes 2-2.5 days which needs to be sped up,” Sharma said at the ACFI Annual Conclave 2024 here on Thursday.
India is a unique market with international imports, international exports and domestic cargo having an almost equal share in the country’s air freight movement. Less than 15% air cargo is carried by freighter aircraft and the balance in belly of passenger aircraft.
“Before Covid, India had 6 freighter aircraft. This number rose to 28 during Covid (that saw airlines use passenger planes also purely for cargo). Post Covid, the number fell to eight and is now currently at 18,” Piyush Srivastava, senior economic advisor in the aviation ministry, said. “During Covid, people got used to sending cargo by air. Govt allowed conversion of passenger to freighter (P2F). Many steps have been taken to boost air freight. E-commerce and express delivery are bound to grow. But given the challenges from (carriage by) rail and road, the processes and turnaround time for air freight must be eased,” Srivastava said.
Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement. Surendra Kumar, joint secretary (logistics and trade) DPIIT, said 70 airports have cargo facilities. “They are not being optimally utilised due to reasons like inadequacy of aggregation among various modes of transport. Integrated development of the sector and reduction of logistics costs is being done. India is soon going to be the third largest economy and a major hub for global supply chain. Projects worth Rs 13.5 lakh crore under PM Gati Shakti will soon be a reality and the sector will get a major impetus,” Kumar said.
After Covid, the push for air cargo has come with the Red Sea crisis. Air freight from India to key export destinations including yheUS, Canada, and Europe has more than doubled in the past few months.In fiscal 2023, scheduled airlines transported nearly 698 thousand metric tonnes of domestic cargo in both belly cargo of passenger flights and freighter aircraft. Currently, India’s airports have a combined air cargo handling capacity of around 6.5 million tonnes.
India is constructing new cargo terminals featuring integrated, multimodal, and dedicated facilities and expanding existing terminals to meet target of 10 MT by 2030.
ACFI estimates India’s air freight market to reach $12.41 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow to $16.37 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7%.