Covid-hit Indian aviation still some distance away from full recovery

DGCA and ICRA reports suggest that domestic passenger numbers had shrunk by around 40% in January 2021

Covid-hit Indian aviation still some distance away from full recovery
IndiGo, SpiceJet and Alliance Air planes.

People are getting back to their pre-Covid routines with air travel slowly getting back to normal, but the aviation sector is far from fully recovering from the hit suffered in the wake of the pandemic. 

A recent report suggested that domestic air travel demand had shrunk by 41% year-on-year to around 76 lakh passengers in January. The sequential growth also reportedly went down to 3.5% during the month over December 2020.

There were a total of 1.27 crore passengers on domestic routes in January 2020. 

Reports suggest that the aviation industry saw a bit of recovery in January 2021. However, the growth pace slowed down, with a sequential growth (over December 2020) of around 3.5% to around 76 lakh passengers, rating agency ICRA said in a release. 

The number of flights departing went up from 416 on May 25, 2020, when commercial air passenger services were resumed after a two-month suspension, to 2,294 till January 18, 2021, said Kinjal Shah, Vice President, ICRA. 

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"The average number of passengers per flight during January 2021 was 111, against an average of 134 passengers per flight in January 2020. Thus, it is expected that the domestic aviation industry operated at a passenger load factor (PLF) of around 72% in the previous month against 86% in January 2020, that too on a low capacity," she added.

According to data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), 77.34 lakh passengers were carried by the Indian domestic airlines in January 2021, as against 127.83 lakh in January 2020, translating into a drop of around 39.5% in the passenger numbers year-on-year. A total of 73.28 lakh passengers were carried in December 2020, which means that the passenger numbers increased by around 5.54% in January 2021 over the previous month.  

Passengers carried by domestic airlines between January and December 2020 was 630.11 lakh, or 56.29% lower than the 1,441.71 lakh carried during the same period in the previous year. In fact, the 2020 number was even lower than the 2014 figure of 673.83 lakh. The year 2020 was the worst in the history of Indian aviation and the industry had to bear the brunt of a two-month-long lockdown since March 25 to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

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Passenger numbers, however, have increased steadily since the sector was opened up, and according to the latest figures of the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA), on February 17, 2021, there were 2,377 departing flights carrying 2,95,866 passengers in Indian airports; and there were 2,384 arriving flights carrying 2,95,359 passengers.

Remi Maillard, President and Managing Director, Airbus (India and South Asia), had noted that the Indian aviation sector was showing positive signs, but was still in the "eye of the storm", according to a PTI report. He, however, pointed out that the Indian airlines were carrying 60% of the total pre-Covid domestic passengers, which was far better than most of the other countries. He said that there was a pent-up demand for leisure travel in India.

The airline sector was reopened in a calibrated manner in May 2020, with 33% capacity. Since then, the permitted capacity had been periodically raised, and in December, the Indian carriers were allowed to operate at 80% of their pre-Covid schedule. The 80% limit on airline capacity would remain till March 31, 2021, or till the summer schedule begins.