Indian Airlines Slowly Begin Recovering From Second Wave

As the worst of the second wave passes India, airlines have slowly begun ramping up schedules. This week saw daily domestic flights rise to over 1,000 for the first time since May. Airlines have also seen ticket bookings increasing, hopefully kicking off another recovery for the beleaguered industry.

Bangalore Airport IndiGo Getty
Airlines might quickly reach the government’s reduced capacity limits as a domestic recovery begins. Photo: Getty Images

Green shoots

According to data from RadarBox.com, Indian airlines have been ramping up flights since the start of June. Traffic bottomed out in mid-May, with all airlines only operating 777 daily domestic flights during this period. This was a drop of 64% compared to February 2021 traffic and 70% relative to pre-pandemic levels.

However, the worst seems to be over for Indian aviation. Since 28th May, daily flights have slowly been increasing. As of today, airlines are operating 1,060 daily flights, a 36% increase from the lows of the second wave. If all goes well, airlines could reach the government-imposed 50% capacity cap by the end of the summer.

Indian Airlines Slowly Begin Recovering From Second Wave
As airlines hit the 1,000 flight mark, passenger confidence seems to be quickly rising domestically. Graph: RadarBox.com

India’s biggest airline, IndiGo, has confirmed the recovery of passenger traffic. In an interview, CEO Ronojoy Dutta said about passenger numbers,

“It [traffic] bottomed out on May 18 and at that point we had gone down from 1,200 departures to about 400 departures. That is how bad it was. Since then, we have started recovering. From May 18 to June 6, the numbers (of passengers) are picking up nicely.”

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International remains weak

While domestic traffic continues its upward climb, international traffic continues its downward spiral. Nearly every major market has banned or restricted travel from India, resulting in airlines scaling back their schedules drastically. From a peak of 600 daily international flights in late March, airlines are only operating 294 daily flights today.

Indian Airlines Slowly Begin Recovering From Second Wave
With countries like the UAE, UK, and US all banning most travel from India, traffic continues to fall. Graph: RadarBox.com

Concerningly, traffic continues to fall every week as travel restrictions continue to drag on. As cases in India fall to their lowest point in months, airlines will be hoping to see border controls slowly be eased to allow in Indians. However, the threat of new strains means that it could still be weeks or months before such a recovery begins.

Bleeding

As airlines continue to struggle with a fraction of passenger traffic, losses continue to mount. Low-cost carrier SpiceJet did not pay employees their full salaries for May, “deferring” it due to a major cash crunch. Similarly, GoAir and SpiceJet entered an informal agreement to combine flights in case of low loads, an unprecedented move.

SpiceJet 737
Indian airlines are quickly facing cash shortages as the second wave drags on. Photo: Getty Images

As cases fall, airlines are desperately hoping for a certain degree of “revenge travel” as people step out for the first time in months. However, any such travel will depend on local restrictions and the lifting of onerous testing requirements by states. For now, airlines are preparing for another rough year as COVID-19 pummels the industry again.

What do you think about the future of India’s aviation recovery? Let us know in the comments.

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