Indian passenger traffic crawls back to normalcy
Indian airlines are allowed to operate 80% of their pre-Covid-19 domestic flights
Indian travellers are taking to the skies once more for domestic flights as the country begins to look beyond the Covid pandemic. The Indian Government reopened domestic flight operations in May 2020 and recovery has been 'bumpy', according to the latest figures from ForwardKeys. However, following disruption in June and July last year, the country's domestic air travel has been on a steady 'upward trajectory'. Indian airlines are allowed to operate a maximum of 80 per cent of their pre-Covid-19 domestic flights. Passengers carried by domestic airlines during Jan-Feb 2021 were 155.61lakhs as against 251.50 lakhs during the corresponding period of previous year thereby registering annual growth of -38.13 per cent and monthly growth of -36.71 per cent. The passenger load factor in the month of Feb 2021 has shown increasing trend compared to previous month primarily due to beginning of tourist season. In the first week of March 2021, domestic air travel levels were at 84 per cent of those seen in 2019, this is compared to a low of 14 per cent in April 2020. International flights have been hampered by continuing problems and travel restrictions around the globe.
Commercial passenger flights in and out of India have been suspended since March last year. In October, the Government began forming travel bubbles for non-tourist journeys and to-date the country has agreements in place with 27 countries.
However, with the beginning of this year, it looks like many people are moving across places resulting in a higher number of passengers taking flights. As many as 5.16 passengers took flights across India, not even in January first week but on a single day. January 9 marked the movement of more than 5.16 lakh passengers, according to information provided by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA).
India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has extended the suspension of international commercial air passenger services to and from India till 11:59 PM, March 31, 2021. Cargo flights and air bubble flights will, however, continue to operate as scheduled. See official order here. India is keen to avoid new Covid-19 strains spreading across the country, as the economy works to stabilize. Efforts are also underway to revive domestic air travel.
This promising sign has led to an increase in international air travel seat capacity into India, according to ForwardKeys, with capacity in February 2021 at 34 per cent of the levels seen in February 2020, before the pandemic took hold.
Visitor arrival remains low, while tourist visas are not being issued, with international arrivals in February at 28 per cent of those seen in the previous year. However, this marks an improvement on June 2020, where international arrivals were just 14 per cent of those recorded 12 months earlier.
Source markets for travel into India have changed, The US is leading the recovery, hitting 76 per cent of the level seen in 2019, followed by Canada (47 per cent) and the UK (17 per cent).
India has extended its ban on scheduled commercial passenger flights to the country until the end of April. India has signed air bubble agreements with 24 countries so far: US, the UK, Germany, France, the UAE, Maldives, Canada, Japan, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Qatar, Iraq, Oman, Bhutan, Kenya, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Nepal, Netherlands, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
India is working to expand air bubbles with priority countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, China, and Singapore.
ForwardKeys APAC Director Jameson Wong said: "The USA, which used to account for 31 per cent of actual air tickets into India pre-Covid from April to September 2019, has doubled, up by 60 per cent for the next six months. Canada, which used to account for 6 per cent, now has grown to 10 per cent. Is India ready to welcome North American travellers?"
The UK's share of travellers into India has dropped from 13 per cent in the months April – September 2019 to just 6 per cent in the same period for 2021. Meanwhile Australia and New Zealand have dropped from 6 per cent to just 1 per cent.
A ForwardKeys spokesperson said: "Though not yet reflective of the true estimate of the leisure travel rebound as India still has leisure visas under suspension, such early signs of pandemic shifts in the traveller source markets to destination India indicates the need for a change in planning and, exciting, new business opportunities, top-down from the government level to operator level."