For some four months, which was also the peak travel season in the country, our domestic airlines made the best of the heavy air traffic. The grounding of Kingfisher, one of the leading private airlines, reduced competition and enabled the others to put up their fares. Now that the tourism season is coming to an end and the airlines have to look at sagging load factors, they have opted for another round of seemingly aggressive fare cuts. Jet Airways set the process in motion by offering highly discounted tickets for bookings till the end of 2013. The other airlines were soon forced to follow suit and came up with almost matching offers. But the basic question remains: is there enough transparency in this apparent competition for the passengers to benefit? Yes, and no. Of course, when thousands of tickets are offered at very low fares, there is a rush and people begin to plan trips or holidays in advance to cash in on such offers. Conditions do apply, but they are not always as clearly spelt out and recognised as they ought to be. Prospective passengers would like to know clearly which are the flights on which these offers are valid, and how many tickets will be available on a particular flight if they have to travel with family or friends. Invariably, while booking tickets, they find not all of them can get the cheaper fares.
And yet, this sort of fare war may still be good for the aviation industry, and especially for passengers. Getting tickets on the Railways, especially at short notice, remains a major problem as most trains, especially on trunk routes, are invariably running full. With the introduction of cheap ticket, or apex fares as they were called, a new generation of middle class fliers took to the skies. The latest fare war will ensure that the rush continues. Add to this, the move by AirAsia to enter the domestic airline sector in alliance with the Tata group and Telestra as an established low-cost airline, and it would seem as if the sky wars are bound to intensify. AirAsia is an established brand name and the association with the Tatas adds further value. This move is likely to strengthen Kingfisher promoter Vijay Mallya’s determination to revive the licence for his grounded airline before more international competition flies in. The country could well be headed for another renaissance in its aviation sector. For that to happen, however, it is essential that airlines protect their bottom line through prudential financial and management practices, something they haven’t done in the past.