India’s surging growth has been a persistent and hot talking point during this week’s Singapore Air Show, with focus not just on how far the market has come but how much potential it still has.

The subject was a key discussion point during the aviation leaders’ forum at the show, with Steven Townend, chief executive of aircraft lessor BOC Aviation, highlighting the scale of India’s promise and the challenges of meeting demand, and Peter Bellew, chief operating officer of Saudi start-up Riyadh Air, lauding significant improvements in India’s aviation infrastructure.

Singapore air show CEO Forum

Source: Billypix

BOC Aviation’s Townend (second left) and Riyadh Air’s Bellew (second right) speaking during the Aviation CEO forum along with CFM International executive vice-president Karl Sheldon (middle) and Zipair co-founder Yasuhiro Fukada (right)

Although China and India have similar-size populations, Townend notes, their aircraft fleets are vastly different, China with around 4,000 aircraft and India with 600-700.

“There’s huge growth to come there from the Air India Group and IndiGo,” he says, but highlights the limited scale of India’s capital markets as a potential complication for airline fleet investments.

“The size of the Indian financial system is 5-10% of the Chinese system,” says Townend, which means airline fleet deals would rely heavily on foreign funding. “Air India and IndiGo are going to be able to access capital,” he says, “but it will be more of a challenge for the smaller guys.”

Bellew – a former chief executive in the region with Malaysia Airlines - adds that the Indian air travel market has “massive potential,” and praises the nation’s significant investment in airport development and airspace management, which he says is now delivering “some of the best air traffic control in the world” and benefits including more direct routing. India is a major market for Saudi Arabia, and a key target of Riyadh Air.