What A Second Wave Could Mean For India’s Aviation Recovery

As India battles a second wave of cases, its impressive domestic aviation recovery is once again under threat. While cases have been rising dramatically, passenger numbers have fallen, albeit still remaining over 200,000 per day. However, as more states add restrictions and confidence falls, India’s aviation recovery could be at risk.

Bangalore Airport IndiGo Getty
While traffic has not fallen too steeply, it has come down from the peak in March. Photo: Getty Images

Struggling

India’s COVID-19 cases have taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks. The seven-day average has risen from 20,000 to 143,000 cases a day in exactly one month. Meanwhile, despite rolling out over 100 million vaccine doses, the sizeable population means that vaccines have little effect on stopping cases right now.

Against this backdrop, aviation has quickly started feeling the pressure. At the start of March, domestic flights saw their highest ever daily passenger number at 313,000 travelers. However, the journey has only been downward from there, with airlines seeing only 236,000 travelers this Sunday.

India Aviation IndiGo
Traffic has fallen roughly 30% amid growing cases across India. Photo: Getty Images

Passenger numbers have firmly found themselves between 200,000 to 250,000 in April, with an average of 239,000 in the first week. Any further drop could significantly hurt airlines as they begin to struggle to fill their aircraft.

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Load factors coming down

According to a report from ICICI Securities, seen in Mint, airlines have begun to see their load factors decline. While there aren’t uniform among carriers, the week ending April 3rd saw the number of passengers per departure fall from 109 to 104. Combined with the declining number of total travelers, airlines could see themselves slipping further into the red.

While traffic is down roughly 30% from the peak, there is some saving grace. The government has signaled that it is unlikely to ban domestic flights once again and is instead focusing on adding new safety measures. With new rules now in place for meal services, mask requirements, and more, traveler confidence remains the top priority.

India Repatriation
The DGCA has tightened safety rules on domestic flights, including banning meals on flights under two hours. Photo: Getty Images

Another blow to airlines will be the extension of the 80% cap on domestic flights. While traffic is not high right now, most carriers were hoping to increase flights over the summer to cater to leisure and VFR demand. However, the government is highly unlikely to raise its cap on flights amid this latest wave of cases.

Resilient market

Perhaps the only saving grace about this situation for Indian aviation is the resilient nature of the market. Even at the last peak of cases in September, India continued to see a relatively high level of daily passengers. As cases climb to their highest levels ever, hundreds of thousands of travelers are still willing to fly.

While the falling number might hurt airlines temporarily, it will be enough to keep them going through this crisis. However, it is notable that if deaths and cases continue to rise, these trends could quickly reverse and passenger numbers start to fall faster. For now, airlines will be hopeful that the second wave passes by the lucrative summer months of June and July.

What do you think about the Indian aviation recovery? How far back will the second wave set the airlines? Let us know in the comments!

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