India's domestic air traffic hits new 'high', pre-Covid numbers may not be far away

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said travellers are preferring to fly as compared to previous months when they would choose other means of transport

India's domestic air traffic hits new 'high', pre-Covid numbers may not be far away
Passengers at the Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/@misskaul

While there has been gloom everywhere in the travel industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s domestic air travel has brought some good news and provided a ray of hope for the future. Air travel was restricted in the initial months of the pandemic and people travelled only on extremely unavoidable occasions. However, as time went by, people started to move out and that in a way helped the aviation industry.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted that a record 2.73 lakh passengers flew across India on Sunday (January 10). A new high has been set with this since domestic flights resumed in May last year after a two-month gap.

Puri also said that travellers are preferring to fly as compared to the previous months when they would choose other means of transport. He hoped that the number of travellers will return to pre-Covid figures very soon.

"2,73,845 passengers on 2,179 flights yesterday is a new high since domestic flights resumed on 25 May 2020. This takes us even closer to the pre-Covid numbers. Flying has emerged as the chosen mode of transport which offers efficiency, safety and predictability," he tweeted.

On December 1, 2020, a new high of 2,52,374 passengers was recorded. The numbers came down after the pandemic restrictions were announced.

"Our airports and skies are busy again. The number of daily domestic passengers has crossed the 252K mark... that is a new high since operations resumed on May 25, 2020. We expect to cross pre-Covid numbers by year-end. Aviation is emerging as India's safe and efficient mode of transport in these times," Puri had tweeted then.

Also read: Covid-19 crisis easing for Indian airlines as govt allows capacity hike to 80%

According to Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola, the domestic civil aviation sector is expected to return to normal in the next two-to-three months.

"The sector remained resilient during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but I don't think that the bad period is over. It will take the next two-to-three months for the country's domestic civil aviation sector to return to its normal. Big countries like India, which have a huge domestic market, are where the future of the aviation lies," he said during a webinar organised by industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

Domestic passenger traffic has remained weak vis-a-vis last year's numbers since flights resumed in late May after a two-month restriction with September data showing a 66% year-on-year drop (58% decline for 9M 20, or first nine months of 2020).

The ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) on December 3 allowed airlines to operate 80% of pre-Covid flights. This meant that scheduled domestic airlines in India were able to sell seats up to 80% of their aircraft’s capacity. 

Domestic flights were suspended in India when a strict lockdown was imposed on March 25 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Airlines were allowed to operate at only 33% capacity after factoring in social distancing norms when the flights were resumed in May. However, according to a Business Today report in June, the airlines were operating at only 25% capacity. 

Also read: Hardeep Singh Puri says fare caps benefited both passengers and airlines

The government raised the capacity limit to 45% by the end of June and to 60% in September. As domestic traffic surged, the government in November permitted airlines to hike capacity to 70%. 

On May 31, or a week after the domestic aviation sector was reopened, there were just 1,003 flight movements and 89,271 footfalls at the Indian airports. The Indian aviation sector has come a long way from there.