Indian Domestic Passenger Numbers Start To Rebound

After a brutal second wave, Indian aviation has begun to find its feet again. Domestic passenger flying daily has crossed the 100,000 mark once again, a quick turnaround from the lows of May. However, restrictions mean that airlines cannot fly above 50% of scheduled capacity and passengers are subject to testing while flying domestically too. Let’s find out more.

Indian Airlines Getty
After two months of tough COVID-19 restrictions and high case, passengers have started flying once again. Photo: Getty Images

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After falling to a low of around 50,000 passengers by the middle of April, domestic traffic is officially in the midst of a major recovery. Data shows that 132,300 passengers took to the skies on Sunday, with traffic more than doubling from the same time last month. Airlines have also seen bookings rise in the same period, confirming that a recovery is indeed underway.

With roughly 120,000 to 130,000 passengers flying daily, India is seeing similar levels of traffic as last September, when the industry began recovering from a crippling two-month flight ban. However, with the second wave decimating domestic traffic once again, airlines will be undoubtedly happy to see passengers return quickly.

India domestic flight resumption
As cases fall, passengers feel more confident of getting on a plane, although travel remains largely limited to essential reasons only. Photo: Getty Images

It is important to note that leisure travel, critical to airlines currently, is yet to bounce back strongly. Instead, passengers flying right now are largely traveling to return home or meet with families. This is due to lockdowns in several states, including popular tourist hotspots, curtailing traffic.

However, India’s cases are trending in the right direction. Cases fell to 42,600 on Monday, the lowest level since late March, and continue a downward trend. If this holds, more domestic restrictions could be eased and allow for passenger numbers to rebound even faster.

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Airlines still struggling

While the rise in traffic will be a breath of fresh air for airlines, they are not out of the woods yet. IndiGo, the country’s biggest airline, has already announced plans to build a $1 billion war chest to weather the third wave of COVID-19 and bolster cash reserves after the second wave.

Meanwhile, other airlines are feeling the heat. SpiceJet deferred salaries in both April and May, citing a lack of funds. Meanwhile, GoAir has opted to sign an informal cancelation agreement with SpiceJet due to dismal load factors. With both carriers bleeding cash, a strong rebound over the next two months will be crucial for recovery.

SpiceJet 737
With domestic traffic at 30% of pre-pandemic levels and international even lower, airlines are struggling to meet their costs. Photo: Getty Images

The government is currently considering proposals for making domestic travel easier, including waiving testing for vaccinated passengers. However, with the country still reeling from the second wave, any such plans will be met with scrutiny for now. As the vaccine campaign picks up pace, we could see more travelers in the future.

It’s not all bad news for international flights either. The UAE announced that it is partially lifting its flight ban for residents to return. This could be the start of a full tourism reopening, a huge boost for Indian airlines. For now, keep an eye out as airlines slowly begin the long journey to a full recovery.

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