Chennai being challenged as it is poised to break 20m passenger milestone; IndiGo is #1 carrier

Vistara’s Chief Strategy and Commercial Officer Sanjiv Kapoor took part in a press conference at Chennai Airport to mark the airline’s inaugural service from Delhi in February. The full-service carrier initially served this hotly-contested airport pair with daily flights, before increasing to double-daily from 1 March. In addition, it has also commenced daily flights to Port Blair. The airline is now Chennai’s ninth largest, and set to grow again later this month, when it introduces flights from Kolkata and Kochi.

Chennai was India’s fourth busiest airport in 2017, behind the country’s two major hubs in Delhi and Mumbai, as well as Bengaluru. Despite a robust annual traffic increase of 11%, Chennai was behind the average growth curve experienced across all Indian airports last year, which grew by 15% from around 255 million to 294 million. In the period April-December 2017, the airport was also the fourth busiest in India for movements (but growing at the slowest rate of the top five airports), but it is the third largest (and growing faster than all of the top five airports apart from Mumbai) in terms of cargo throughput in the same period, according to Airports Authority of India data for last year.

The airport is currently served by 35 airlines (based on OAG schedules for w/c 15 March), a result which has increased by two since the same week in 2017. There has also been growth in the number of non-stop destinations served from Chennai up to 52, comprising of 30 domestic and 22 international routes, which has risen from 42 in the same week last year (20 domestic and 22 international).

Year-on-year growth since 2012

With the exception of 2012, Chennai’s traffic has grown every year between 2010-2017. The plateauing of the airport’s traffic in 2012 was presumably as a result of the demise of Kingfisher Airlines in October of that year, which at the time was the airport’s fifth-largest serving carrier. The Indian airport was the now defunct airline’s fourth most important in its network in terms of annual seats (around 430,000 one-way) in 2012. That said, Chennai’s passenger numbers have plotted a steady upward trajectory, averaging a respectable 7.8% annual growth in the period 2010-2017. It should be noted that the gap between Chennai and the fifth largest Indian airport (Kolkata) has reduced over the last 12 months, as the latter’s traffic increased by 29% to 18.88 million. In fact in the last three months of 2017, Kolkata’s monthly passenger figures have outstripped those achieved at Chennai, with the East Indian airport potentially poised to take over fourth position this year.

Source: AAI.

Although it is of course early days, Chennai has slipped behind the Indian average growth for 2018 so far, with its January passenger increase being just 9.3% compared to 15.3% across the whole country. Perhaps more importantly, Kolkata’s monthly traffic increase in the first month of this year was a more impressive 26%, making it the fastest growing across India’s top five airports. However, if Chennai maintains its average level of annual growth throughout the next 12 months, the airport should easily break the 20 million annual passenger figure for the first time in 2018.

SVID says “Excellent” for Chennai

When using anna.aero’s SVID calculator, Chennai delivers a score of 0.39, which means it gains an “Excellent” rating. Comparing this seasonal performance against those of its nearest domestic rivals – India’s third largest airport Bengaluru and fifth largest Kolkata – Chennai performs better than both. While both competing airports also score “Excellent” results, Bengaluru has the most seasonal traffic profile (scoring 1.29) of the three airports, while Kolkata’s more year-round appeal means its monthly passenger figures yield it a very healthy score of 0.85. 

Source: Aena. Click to enlarge.

When looking at the 2015 and 2016 seasonality scores of Chennai’s monthly throughput, the airport has made some progress in flattening the profile of its traffic. In 2015, the airport still achieved an “Excellent” rating with a score of 0.47, and then slightly improved on this in 2016 to deliver a result of 0.39, a tally it maintained in 2017. Looking forward to this year’s SVID score for Chennai, the anna.aero data elves are predicting a further flattening of its score in the “Excellent” category, with an anticipated result of around 0.37.

IndiGo #1, and growing fast

The top 12 airlines at Chennai command 88% of the total weekly capacity at the airport, with their combined share up marginally (+1%) on the same period last year. According to OAG schedules, the number of weekly seats available from Chennai this year is 18% higher than the same seven days in 2017. The top 12 has five overseas carriers registered (highlighted in light green). Unsurprisingly, IndiGo, India’s #1 carrier, is also the biggest airline at Chennai, which is the LCC’s sixth largest operation in terms of its weekly capacity. Its weekly one-way seat tally is up a whopping 27% higher versus the same week last year, with IndiGo now nudging close to 100,000 weekly seats at the airport. However, this capacity increase is not the biggest at Chennai, with SriLankan Airlines (+72%) and India’s GoAir (+44%) both posting larger rises than IndiGo. 

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 15 March.

Last year, the above top 12 airlines graph would have boasted Air Carnival (10th; 2,450 weekly seats), Air Costa (11th; 2,352 seats) and Scoot (12th; 2,345 seats). Unfortunately, the removal of the first two – Air Carnival and Air Costa – are as result of the former ceasing operations in April 2017, and the latter in February 2017 (clearly the airline’s schedules for March were already held by OAG). Scoot, which claimed 12th position last March, has been ousted by three newcomers to the top 12, seeing it fall to 13th spot for March 2018. The new additions to the rankings, and also to the airport, were AirAsia India (which has started flights to Bengaluru and Bhubaneswar), Vistara (started flights to Delhi and Port Blair) and Batik Air (started flights from Medan and Denpasar via Kuala Lumpur).

Port Blair pushed out of top 12

The top 12 routes at Chennai command 68% of the total weekly capacity at the airport, with their combined share falling (-5%) on the same period last year. The top 12 has three international airport pairs (highlighted in light green). Last year’s 13th largest route in terms of weekly seats is the fastest growing sector of the top 12, with Colombo increasing its capacity year-on-year by 101% and seeing it jump into sixth position. As a result of the Sri Lankan capital city’s growth, last year’s #12 route, Port Blair, has fallen to 13th position in March 2018. Seats to Bengaluru have climbed dramatically too over the past 12 months, with 70% more now available. Two routes posted double-digit annual declines in weekly capacity, these being Kolkata (-14%) and Singapore (-11%). 

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 15 March.

The biggest two routes from Chennai have multiple carriers and airline business models serving them, giving passengers a range of product options on these heavily-operated sectors. To Delhi there are currently five carriers flying the 1,754-kilometre route from Chennai with a combined 177 weekly frequencies – namely IndiGo (56), Jet Airways (51), Air India (35) SpiceJet (21) and Vistara (14). By contrast, there are presently six airlines (or five depending on your view on subsidiary airlines) operating the 1,033 kilometre city pair to Mumbai, offering a combined 162 weekly services – Jet Airways (64), IndiGo (42), Air India (21) GoAir (14), SpiceJet (21) and Jet Konnect (seven).

New Kolkata and Kochi connections for Chennai

Looking ahead to S18 and beyond, the Indian airport is set to welcome two new services from Chennai newcomer Vistara. According to anna.aero’s New Route Database, the airline will introduce a double-daily service from Kolkata and a daily service from Kochi, both on 25 March. This will see Vistara compete with the four incumbent carriers on the 1,382-kilometre sector to Kolkata, including IndiGo (50 weekly flights), SpiceJet (14), Air India and GoAir (both daily). To Kochi, there are the same four competing airlines – IndiGo (21 weekly flights), SpiceJet, GoAir (both 20) and Air India (daily).

Chennai currently offers a 52-destination network, which includes 30 domestic and 22 international points. In terms of intercontinental connections, British Airways offers a daily service from its London Heathrow hub, Lufthansa flies a six times weekly A340-300 operation from Frankfurt, with Jet Airways connecting to Paris CDG on a five times weekly basis.


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