India’s aviation recovery is continuing its upward trend, with airlines recovering to 46% of last year’s capacity in September. August to September saw a substantial increase in daily flights and capacity with airlines averaging 1,300 departures every day and adding back 13% of capacity. While the industry has a long way to go, it is showing impressive progress despite the growing pandemic.
India crossed a significant milestone in its recovery last month, reaching 1,300 daily flights on average in September. This is over a 40% increase over August, which only saw an average of 930 flights every day. The sharp increase can be attributed mainly to passenger confidence and over 150,000 passengers are now flying daily, according to analysts at ICRA.
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Overall, carriers have now reached 46% capacity compared to this time last year. This is impressive considering international flights remain constrained and domestic flights are the primary drivers of this growth. Airlines have become more optimistic too, adding 13% to their flights last month.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri estimates that India can reach its pre-COVID levels between Diwali (in mid-November) and New Years. Traffic is expected to pick up in the next two months as India enters the popular festival season and winter holidays. We could see substantial gains in this time as it becomes clear that passengers are willing to travel.
Passenger growth slower
While flights have picked up relatively quickly, passenger numbers are growing a bit more slowly. As of September, passenger capacity is still down 66% year-on-year, which means just over a third of passengers are back in the sky. While figures improve for domestic flights alone, airlines are only seeing at an average load factor of 63%, which is well below last year’s 85.5%.
The numbers are undoubtedly improving and the number of daily passengers has risen four-fold between May and October. However, airlines are still struggling to fill up planes, with an average of 113 seats per flight (the average A320 has 180 seats).
This will mean airlines may hit a ceiling with increasing flight traffic, unless passenger numbers also rise in response. It is to be seen if the popular winter months will help airlines make up this shortfall in passengers.
India is showing a positive trend in its aviation recovery in a time when other major markets are seeing a stall in demand. It should also be noted that India is still seeing the highest daily cases in the world, which means travel is growing despite this rise in cases. However, this also means that as India’s cases come under control (as is happening the last week or so), traffic could increase further.
The next few months will be critical to see how well the recovery is going and if non-essential travel returns. Nevertheless, India has defied expectations when it comes to the aviation industry.
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