Bubbling expectations of an approaching air travel resumption for the Indian subcontinent were dampened on Sunday. India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced it is extending the ban on domestic and international flights until 23:59 on May 31st.
Hopes of recommencing travel dashed
As the Airports of India Authority released guidelines just before the weekend to be adhered to by passengers when air travel opens back up, there were hopes that commercial aviation would soon be allowed to take back off. Alas, officials have extended the ban until the end of the month.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that all domestic and international air travel of passengers except for domestic medical services and air ambulances would remain suspended. However, the ban will not extend to all-cargo operations, and those flights especially approved by the MHA and the DGCA.
The DGCA further stated that all foreign and domestic airlines “shall be suitably informed” about the opening of their operations, whether international to/from India or domestic respectively “in due course.”
Vande Bharat Mission
Among the approved special flights are the numerous repatriation flights under the massive operation of Vande Bharat Mission. The first phase, which began on May 7th, saw Air India and its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express bring back over 12,000 stranded Indians.
The initial wave focused on particularly vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, pregnant women, stranded students, and those with visa issues facing deportation. Phase II, which began on Saturday, intends to repatriate over 30,000 more stranded nationals from 31 countries with 149 flights operated by the same airlines.
One of the fastest-growing aviation markets
According to InvestIndia, India has 91 international carriers comprised of five domestic and 86 foreign and is one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world. Its revenue passenger kilometer (RPK) in domestic airline growth in 2018 was 18.6%, three times the global RPK increase, which was 6.5%.
How long it will take for that kind of growth to show in the statistics again remains uncertain as predictions vary from a couple of years to nearly a decade. And what travel during the “new normal” will actually look like is still only a best guess estimation.
COVID-19 numbers remain low
Meanwhile, COVID-19 seems to have gone remarkably easy on India, if not in indirect economic and humanitarian effects of the lockdown, then in the rate of infections. With (at the time of writing) less than 100,000 confirmed cases and just above 3,000 deaths, scientists are amazed at how one of the world’s most densely populated countries has been so successful at keeping the virus at bay.
Hopefully, this could translate into a V-shaped recovery for its economy once restrictions do ease up, and at least the domestic commercial aviation market may bounce back quickly.
Do you think this is the last extension of India’s flight ban? Or will we see another date in a couple of weeks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.