Indian Recovery Continues With Domestic Capacity Increase

The Government of India provided some relief to Indian airlines, announcing that domestic flight capacity has been increased to 85% of pre-COVID levels. The decision comes as COVID cases in India fall and demand for air travel grows steadily. Airlines are expected to make the most of this new rule ahead of the festive season that traditionally sees a lot of traffic.

IndiGo Air India
The Indian government has allowed airlines to operate with increased capacity on domestic routes. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines allowed to fly more passengers

On September 18th, the Ministry of Civil Aviation of India issued an official notification on the matter, saying,

“After review of the current status of scheduled domestic operations viz-a-viz passenger demand for air travel in terms of the purpose specified in the initial order dated May 21, 2020, condition laid down in para 2 of the order dated May 21, 2020, as last amended on dated August 12, 2021, is further modified as under: 72.5 percent capacity may be read as 85 percent capacity.”

Ever since scheduled domestic flights in India have been allowed to operate from May 25th, 2020, the official passenger capacity has seen a few ups and downs. Owing to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, the Indian government has had to revise the numbers a few times. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. May 25th, 2020: Scheduled domestic services resume at 33% of pre-COVID capacity
  2. December 2020: Increased to 80%
  3. June 1st, 2021: Decreased to 50% due to COVID surge
  4. July 5th, 2021: Increased to 65%
  5. August 12th, 2021: Increased to 72.5%
  6. September 18th, 2021: Increased to 85%
India Aviation IndiGo
Under the new rule, airlines can fly at 85% pre-COVID capacity on domestic routes in India. Photo: Getty Images

The government had also been controlling the upper and lower price limit keeping the interests of both the airlines and passengers in mind. The domestic flight fare band has now been revised to 15 days. This means that airlines can decide their own fares when tickets are booked more than 15 days in advance.

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Traffic surge in August

The ministry’s decision comes on the heels of an increase in domestic air traffic in August. On Thursday, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) released a report that said that the total number of passengers who traveled in August increased to 6.7 million compared to 5 million in July. Passenger load factors (PLF) of major airlines were in the range of 60.3% to 79.6%, up from 53.6% to 74.6% in July.

IndiGo continued to enjoy the biggest market share at 57%, carrying around 3.8 million passengers with a PLF of 74%. SpiceJet ferried around 580,000 passengers at 79.6% PLF, capturing a market share of 8.7%.

IndiGo A320neo
The decision comes after a DGCA report that said that domestic traffic in India saw an uptick in August. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines hopeful for the next few months

With the onset of the festive season next month, airlines are hoping for a good recovery. The last few months of the year traditionally see many Indians criss-cross the country due to major festivals and holidays. With COVID numbers dipping, passengers feel more confident to resume travel, and the airlines are eager to cash in on that.

IndiGo is optimistic going forward and is aiming to fly full capacity by December. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, the carrier’s CEO Ronojoy Dutta said that “things are improving slowly” and added that it was “hard not to be bullish as traffic is going up.”

Vistara’s soon-to-be CEO, Vinod Kannan, shares the same sentiments and is hopeful of achieving pre-COVID numbers by year-end. However, he realizes that such plans will materialize only if there are no more severe COVID waves.

What do you feel about India’s domestic travel recovery? Are you planning to fly anytime soon in India? Do share your comments.