The Role of Air Transport in the Development of International Tourism

The role of air transport in the development of international tourism is becoming increasingly important. It has certainly been a key factor in the growth of international tourism, especially in respect of long distance and intercontinental travel.

The Airlines Industry:

Although commercial air travel took place before the Second World War, air transport for the masses has essentially been a post-war phenomenon. The main period of growth was during the 1960s when overseas holiday became a symptomatic benefit of a society experiencing rising living standards.

In Europe, the years immediately after World War I witnessed the attempts to create commercial airlines. The war itself had a direct bearing on the development of air transport in a similar way as it had with motor transport. Certain commercial civil air services were inaugurated and developed in this period.

Besides Europe, air transport, was developed in many other countries during this period. Although international air travel was born at the end of World War I’ and slowly grew between the two wars, it was only at the end of World War II that it made a tremendous breakthrough.

It emerged into a practical mode of transport over long distances only in the late forties when the aircraft industry in America applied the technical and manufacturing resources it had developed during the war.

This period saw the development of large pressurised civil aircraft like the Douglas DC-6s and the Lockheed Constellations followed by the DC-7s and the super constellations operating at twice the speed and flying altitudes of their predecessor war planes.

The removal of wartime restrictions on international travel and the tremendous speed, safety and comfort provided by the new aircraft released the long pent-up wanderlust of the people the world over. In the year 1952 the two-class travel was introduced which was made possible by the larger capacity of the new aircraft, which also resulted in lower airfares.

The steady fall in the real cost of flying has been chiefly productive in traffic across the Atlantic and within the USA, stimulated by the introduction of tourist fares in the year 1952. This period also saw the first post-war attempt to build a “package holiday” around air transport, the model for most of today’s global tourism.

The growing willingness of tourists to take to air travel during this period was responsible for the annual flood of North Americans across the Atlantic to Europe. This trend continues even today. Within Europe, there has been the spectacular explosion of the Mediterranean resorts.

Air traffic between commercial sectors was now growing rapidly. In Europe before World War II, Swissair was already flying twin-engine Douglas Dc-2s carrying as many as 14-16 passengers between Zurich and London.

In the year 1920, KLM the Dutch Airlines, introduced the first commercial service between Amsterdam and London. The journey in a two-seater De Havilland DH-9 took about four hours. In the year 1929, KLM inaugurated another service to the Far East to Jakarta, and within the next few years it was flying to most major West European cities.

Travelling in these early commercial flights was rather an adventure than the pleasure that it is today. It was only after World War II that commercial air travel started surging ahead. More facilities were added for the passengers and travel was made more comfortable.

The commercial jet air travel, however, was pioneered by Great Britain in the year 1952 with the inauguration of jet flights, by BOAC. There after Pan America introduced the Boeing 707 service between Paris and New York in the year 1958.

By the year 1968 most of the European carriers had converted totally to jet aircraft. As a result of the introduction of jet air services, there was a tremendous boost to air travel from the year 1958.

The most decisive development during this period was, however, the development of the concept of ‘inclusive tours’ in which travellers were carried on charter flights at rates substantially lower than those on normal scheduled services.

Air transport can be considered to be responsible for the introduction of cheaper travel, especially long distance, enabling a large majority of potential travellers to think of visiting far off countries for the purposes of holiday.

Jumbo Jets and Mass Tourism:

It was, however, the introduction of ‘Jumbo Jets’ in the year 1970 which heralded the phenomenon of mass market international tourism as well as business tourism. The jumbo jets-the Boeing 747s, DC 10s and L-101 Is made air travel convenient, comfortable and luxurious.

Luxury air travel was made possible for business as well as non-business travellers as the big size of jets gave the airlines space enough to partition off a section of the plane for executives who were willing to pay extra for the luxury.

Pan Am and the Japan Air Lines (JAL) were among the first carriers to offer passengers what came to be known as business class travel, the seats in this class were wider, giving more space to stretch and relax in comfort, making the long distance travel less wearisome.

As the popularity of business class travel grew, more and more airlines introduced the scheme. It became extremely successful on long-haul international flights. As an outcome of the success of business class, yet another class known as ‘Executive Class’ was introduced.

As the size in the number of business travel grew and competition increased the airlines started to further upgrade their services for their clients. This resulted in the introduction of ‘Executive Glass’. It was once again Japan Air Lines which in the year 1975 started an ‘Executive Service’ lounge in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, complete with conference rooms, having all the facilities for meetings.

Lufthansa opened a lounge at Frankfurt and SAS at Copenhagen airports. Many other airlines such as TWA with Ambassador Club, Singapore with Silver Kris Lounges, Pan Am with Clipper Club, Air France with Le Club, Cathay Pacific with Marco Polo, British Airways with Supper Club, and airlines like Qantas, Air India, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Swissair, etc., offer additional on- ground facilities to their clients.

These include special check-in-counters, priority baggage handling and clearance, free transport to and from airport, free drinks etc. The membership is open to those who pay a nominal fee or is offered free to travellers who have travelled frequently on the carrier.

The air transport industry, in spite of ever-increasing fuel costs and inflation, is able to control successfully fare levels as a result of economies of scale provided by the big wide-bodied aircrafts of modern times.

The improved fuel efficiency of the later models of jet engines combined with ingenuity and marketing expertise of airlines, travel agencies and tour operators have made air travel accessible to an increasing number of people.

This is also illustrated by the North Atlantic route-the so-called golden route of traffic, which saw the successive introduction of excursion fares in 1948, coach fares in 1952, family fares in 1955, economy class fares in 1958, affinity group in 1963, group inclusive tour fares in 1967, youth fares in 1972 and apex fares in 1975.

As a result of these innovations in air travel, fares per seat mile declined in real terms, between 1962 and 1975. Great advances have been made in air travel in the recent years, more particularly for overseas holiday making. Tourism in turn has had a significant impact on the aircraft industry and on the carriers.

Factors like comfort, speed, and safety influence the tourists’ choice of mode of transport. Now wide- bodied jets such as Boeing 747, the Mc Donnel-Douglas DC 10, the Airbus A 300, A 320 and Lockheed Tristar L-1011 are all part of the response to the requirements of the ever-growing travel market. The technical brilliance of the supersonic aircraft like the Concorde and of the Tupolev 144 is remarkable landmarks in aviation history.

Scheduled and Non-Scheduled Airlines Services:

As stated earlier, the Air Corporation Act (1953) was repealed. Thus, monopoly of Air India and Indian Airlines over scheduled operations was ended due to this action of the government.

At present, there are 2 private scheduled operations in India. They provide the services of domestic flights. Further, 38 firms have been granted non-scheduled air taxi permits. Out of these, 4 firms have started their operations (in the air taxi segment), as explained in section 5.5.6.2.1.

The policy on domestic air transport was approved in April, 1997. According to this policy, barriers to entry in and exit from the civil aviation sector have been removed. The operator decides the type of aircraft to the used. Entry of foreigners in the equity funds of these private airlines has been banned, at least.

The existing policy, of provision of route dispersal plan to ensure operations of a minimum number of flights in the north-eastern region, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir has been retained.

Air Taxis:

The Air Corporation Act (1953) was repealed on March 1, 1994. This was done to facilitate the entry of the private airlines in the gamut of domestic civil aviation. Thus, the monopoly of Air India, Indian Airlines and Vayudoot was ended over scheduled air transport services. The private airlines of India operate air taxis. There are 4 airlines operating in India in the private sector.

These are Sahara Airways, Jet Airways, Skyline NEPC and NEPC Airlines. The number of passengers carried by (private) air taxies was 4.96 million in 1996. The share of air taxies in air transport was 41.14 per cent. Jet Airways had 12 Boeing 73 7s, Sahara Airlines had 3 Boeing 73 7s, Skyline NEPC had 5 and NEPC Airlines had 9.

The air taxies operated by these private players are gaining popularity, though the number of air passengers is not very high. The number of private taxi operators may increase. Jagson Airlines has also started domestic flights.