A Look At India’s Aviation Recovery So Far

India is one of the busiest aviation markets in the world, only behind the US and China. However, as 2020 essentially saw the industry shut down for two months, aviation has been slowly recovering. As we enter 2021, here’s a look at India’s aviation recovery so far.

India Aviation IndiGo
Aviation traffic fell by nearly 99% during India’s first lockdown in March. Photo: Getty Images

The data and graphs used in this article are courtesy of RadarBox.com.

The drop

Prior to India’s first lockdown in late March, the aviation industry was looking at a bright year ahead. January and February saw domestic traffic up by nearly 15% compared to 2019, with over 2,900 flights every day by early March. However, things quickly went downhill as COVID-19 began spreading across India. Following a 23% drop in traffic in the week of March 19th, India’s first lockdown went into effect on 25th March.

Almost overnight, domestic traffic fell by over 98% across the country. From a record high of 2,959 flights in the week of March 12th, India had exactly 31 flights in the week of April 9th. All passenger flights were banned and borders closed, meaning only a few dozen cargo routes were still operational.

India domestic traffic January-April 2020
India’s domestic traffic fell off a cliff almost overnight due to the strict ban. Data: RadarBox.com

While domestic flights were quickly reduced, international flights began feeling the impact of COVID-19 even before. International flights began falling in the second week of March and were down over 50% by the week of March 19th. Following the ban on all international flights, only some cargo and repatriation flights continued.

India international traffic January-April 2020
International flights actually outstripped domestic ones during the first lockdown. Graph: RadarBox.com

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The recovery

India officially lifted the ban on domestic flights on May 25th, exactly two months after the order first went into effect. The government only allowed 33% of regular schedules to fly at the time, with flights slowly ramping up in the next few weeks. It should be noted that flight movements do not correspond to passenger numbers, which continue to remain much lower than 2019 levels.

However, India’s domestic traffic quickly began its recovery, reaching the 50% recovery mark in mid-September. Numbers have only grown since then as the government progressively lifted the flight cap from 33% to the current 80%. Airlines are poised to break the 80% threshold in the coming weeks, with capacity now over 72% of 2019 levels.

India international traffic June-January 2020-21
Domestic traffic has quickly recovered from the lows of last April and is fast approaching the 80% mark. Data: RadarBox.com

While domestic flights have recovered fairly well given the circumstances, the same can’t be said about international ones. While traffic did pick up when India launched its Vande Bharat repatriation mission in May, flight levels have stagnated since July. Daily flights have only crossed the 500 mark a handful of times, even with the introduction of travel bubbles in July.

The combination of India’s ban on scheduled flights, border restrictions, and lower demand means recovery has been slow. International flights still remain under the 40% mark compared to 2019 and new bans have seen traffic drop once again.

India international traffic May-Jan 2020-21
International flights are yet to recover to even 40% of pre-pandemic levels due to the ongoing restrictions. Graph: RadarBox.com

Brighter future

India’s aviation recovery has been both strong and choppy when looking at the two sides of the coin. The arrival of a vaccine and improving demand means that 2021 is shaping up to be a much stronger year for aviation traffic. However, low passenger numbers still mean that airlines will continue to struggle with losses. A full recovery remains at least a year away, but India will likely surpass the global forecast for aviation recovery.

Air India Boeing 777-337
The arrival of a vaccine will boost India’s strong aviation recovery. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

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