India crossed a significant benchmark this week with domestic capacity reaching 33% of pre-pandemic levels. Over 97,000 passengers took to the sky on Saturday, the highest figure seen in the three months since flights resumed. The industry is now aiming higher, with plans to open new routes and bring the total passenger figure to 150,000 passengers a day.
Passenger numbers continue to rise
India has slowly and steadily been increasing its domestic capacity over the last three months. The total number of flights has more than doubled, going from 418 to 968 daily flights. Passenger count has also risen significantly, reaching its peak of 97,662 on August 22nd. This is a three-fold rise over the 30,550 passengers on May 26th.
These figures represent 33% of pre-pandemic domestic passengers, a key benchmark for the industry. However, the expansion beyond this figure might prove challenging considering the number of cases and state-level restrictions.
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Domestic flights resumed in India on May 25th, after a two-month ban due to the pandemic. Despite a dramatic rise in cases in the last three months, flying still seems to be picking up steam, a positive sign for the industry. When cases begin to drop, we can expect a rapid rise in the number of flights and passengers.
India’s Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, has said the next target is reaching 150,000 daily passengers, representing 50% of pre-pandemic capacity. Doing this would require a lifting of several key restrictions, such as caps on total flights and airport capacity limits. So how will the government reach this goal?
In his tweet, Mr Puri hinted that India would reach this target by “further opening up the sector and adding new flights”. Currently, airlines can only fly 45% of their summer schedules. However, the government could ease this rule, increasing total flights, or simply doing away with caps altogether.
Another pressing concern has been daily limits at key Indian airports. This might prove to be a trickier issue since state governments can make their own decisions regarding airports. Mumbai Airport, usually the second busiest, still has a 100 flight limit, while Kolkata Airport has capped flights from major cities such as Delhi and Chennai and has no flights on certain days every month.
Without negotiating an increase in these airport caps, airlines will continue to struggle with load factors (currently around 61%) and be hesitant to increase flights. Even now, airlines may be flying slightly below the 45% cap as demand struggles to grow.
The fourth quarter tends to be a strong one for airlines thanks to the popular festival season. Airlines usually see substantial revenues during this time, as passengers fly to meet friends and family. While this year will see weaker demand, we can expect a rise in passengers in the next few months.
For now, the industry looks cautiously optimistic about its growth. A formula of strong holiday travel and vaccine could give airlines the bounce they’ve been waiting for. Until then, airlines will continue to see a steady increase in daily passengers.