The unlikely fallout of COVID19 and the regulated capacity at 60% in the domestic air traffic market has meant that the count of active airports in India has dropped below 100 as the Winter schedule started the previous Sunday. The IATA Northern Winter schedule came into effect on October 25, 2020. Globally, there are two schedules – summer and winter. The summer schedule lasts from last sunday of March until the last Saturday of October (provided there is a sunday in October after that) and the last sunday of October to the last Saturday of March is the winter schedule.
After a very long time, the active airports in India have dropped below 100 and comes within a year of the government’s plan of having additional 100 airports operational by 2024! A study of the schedule released by DGCA shows that airlines have filed and got approvals for 96 airports in the country. However one (Hindon) is approved but not operating thus making it 95 operational airports for Winter Schedule 2020.
Which ones have fallen out?
The largest airport to lose connectivity is Shirdi. The temple town got an airport only recently and had become popular with tourists and devotees alike. IndiGo, Spicejet and Alliance Air operated to Shirdi before the lockdown due to COVID-19. Temples are closed in the state of Maharashtra where Shirdi lies and without the temple – the traffic is as good as nil and served well by nearby Aurangabad airport. Shirdi was connected to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Indore.
The other airports are all part of UDAN and have been hit due to the cap in capacity. Spicejet was the sole operator at Adampur where it operated under Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) – UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) scheme from New Delhi. The airport in Punjab serves the area of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Phagwara.
Punjab also lost connectivity to Bhatinda – where government owned Alliance Air – a subsidiary of Air India operated from New Delhi and Jammu. Bhatinda is one of the important commercial towns in the state of Punjab.
Alliance Air has also stopped services on Delhi – Shimla sector – where it was the sole operator. The route was the first route under RCS – UDAN and re-started in April 2017. The route was up for a re-bid and Alliance Air won the bid again in UDAN 4. With the sole operator not operating flights, Shimla is back to being an airport without flights.
Alliance Air has also suspended services to Agatti – the only airport in Lakshadweep which was serviced from Kochi with an extension to Bengaluru. This effectively cuts the link from the mainland to the islands in the Arabian sea.
Hindon – the air force station near New Delhi which was opened with much fanfare for civil operations has also lost connectivity. While Star Air continues to list Hindon – where it operated from Hubli, Air Heritage the other operator is not even listing its route or has its scheduled approved for this season.
With Air Heritage not operating flights, Pithorgarh in picturesque Uttarakhand has also lost connectivity. The airline operated flights to Hindon, Pantnagar and Dehradun. With no other operator and the runway too small to accommodate other aircraft types, it will take time for connectivity to return.
Down south, Pondicherry airport has lost connectivity – again! Spicejet the sole operator won’t be operating flights. The airline operated flights from Bengaluru and Hyderabad. The airport has seen many ups and downs over the last many years which has seen airlines trying flights from Chennai and then Bengaluru.
Why so and when will more airports come online?
Airlines have been asked to cap the capacity at 60% of the total filed schedule and that means that airlines cannot operate all routes. In difficult times like these where finances are hard to meet, it makes sense for airlines to cut stations rather than spread thin across the network.
As more and more capacity is permitted, airlines could relook at re-starting the services. Also airports like Shimla are not popular during the winter months and also sees flight diversions due to weather on many days.
Spicejet has already announced flights to Darbhanga starting November. As rules are further relaxed, airlines will look at strengthening and re-jigging the network to grow again. But when could the list of active airports cross 100 again? Probably in April 2021 when the next summer schedule starts!