Fastest-growing city on Earth: Surat Airport set to capitalise on future economic powerhouse

Surat’s new passenger terminal celebrated 10 years of operation in 2019, which has helped unlock strong traffic growth. Passenger numbers have doubled since 2017.

9% annual growth for Surat, city set to become bigger economy than Morocco by 2035

When people think of India, they tend to think of the established tourism and commerce hubs: New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and so on. But it is Surat, a coastal city in the North Western region of Gujurat, that has made recent headlines, with the fastest economic growth of any city on Earth according to a recent Oxford University report. The city’s GDP is projected to grow by 9% per annum between 2019 and 2035, from $29 billion in 2018 to $127 billion in 2035 – bigger than Morocco’s current GDP of $118 billion.

As such, Surat promises to be a key aviation market in years to come. Since 2017, passenger numbers at Surat Airport have more than doubled, an international service has been launched, and low-cost carriers SpiceJet and Indigo have set up rapidly-growing hubs there. 

Passenger numbers up 80% year-on-year

Source: Airports Authority of India

Surat has seen stratospheric passenger growth in recent years, with the peak months of November and December seeing passenger numbers more than double between 2017 and 2018, and every month seeing double-digit growth. September to December is peak season for the airport, with over twice as many passengers passing through its doors in December as April.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser

The airport’s top routes paint a similar picture. Even established markets, such as capital city Delhi, are experiencing double-digit growth, indicating strengthening demand from a growing number of people able to afford air travel. The World Bank predicts that India’s middle class will grow to 40% of the population, up from 5% in 2007. This means more people can afford to fly, and the fare-reducing effect of LCCs like Indigo and SpiceJet will only increase the potential customer base. Such rapid economic development – particularly in Surat with over 9% GDP growth per year – may explain the remarkable growth of newer routes such as Mumbai and Jaisalmer, with demand increasing tenfold year-on-year for the latter. 

Source: OAG Mapper. The recently-launched Sharjah route marks the first foray into the international market for Surat, which has seen impressive growth in its route network between 2017 and 2019 (left to right). Capacity has grown on core markets such as Delhi and Mumbai, but there has also been expansion further afield from 2018, with longer routes such as Bangalore, Chennai and Sharjah appearing on the route map.

Who let the low costs out – Indigo and SpiceJet rule the roost after rapid growth; could long haul services be coming soon?

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser

Surat reflects the growing trend across India of low-cost carriers beginning to dominate the domestic market, and the market share of full service carriers diminishing. This has only accelerated following the collapse earlier in 2019 of Jet Airways. Rival SpiceJet in particular benefited greatly, acquiring a number of the defunct airline’s 737s and rapidly increasing the year’s growth plans. In Surat specifically, it is in fact IndiGo which has seen the most rapid growth, with incumbent flag carrier Air India trimming capacity and fighting back instead with its own low cost carrier: Air India Express. Low cost carriers have turbocharged growth, and with similarly-sized Amritsar welcoming long haul services to Birmingham, Surat Airport could soon become a valuable international destination waiting to happen.

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