The third of May saw the domestic passenger traffic drop below the 1 lakh mark after seven months. Only 97,761 passengers flew across 1306 flights on May 03, 2021. The passenger numbers are just 22.99% of pre-COVID numbers while the flight count is 41.66% of pre-COVID. This takes us back by seven months to August 2020, when traffic shuffled on the lower and upper side of the 1 lakh mark before progressing to hit an all time high of 3.13 lakh on the last day of February. Coinciding with the second wave of COVID-19, March seemed muted, recording slightly fewer passengers than February even with three more days than February.
Hurting the airlines?
April saw the cumulative flight count drop to 60,217 flights and passenger count drop to 55.91 lakhs. The drop was 15.53% for flight count but 27.44% for passenger count and that is where it hurt the most. One fourth of the March traffic vanished and April and if the first few days of May are any indicator then it would slide even further.
While the capacity has been capped in Indian skies since the restart of air services, the cap has been revised to 80% of pre-COVID-19 numbers since December and remains in effect. In Fact when the cap on both capacity and pricing was extended the last time, the Hon. Minister of Civil Aviation had informed that the government could look at revising the cap to 100% if the traffic crosses 3.5 lakh per day on three occasions. As fate would have it, the traffic has not crossed even the 3 lakh mark for the entire month of March.
Come April, the slide started as if there is no tomorrow. As the country started recording new peaks in the second wave of COVID-19, state after state stared at a lockdown. This meant that businesses were shut and in-person meetings again took a backseat. Requirements for RT-PCR tests and the waiting to get them done, also led to leisure destinations showing a significant drop after an uptick.
This cocktail of higher fuel prices, hike in floor price of air fare, strengthening rupee and lower passengers will hurt the airlines, even more.
With vaccination still some distance away and the current daily cases being 3.5 times what was experienced in the first wave, air travel will take some time to recover again. However, when vaccination picks up speed, air travel could come up much faster than before. Until then airlines will have to live with these numbers – in what is typically one of the best quarters in Indian aviation.
The country started with 108 operational airports in the Summer Schedule but we are already staring at a lot of routes being shut and few airports having suspended operations completely.
This is a phase which, hopefully, won’t last long and with COVID appropriate behaviour and higher percentage of vaccinated individuals – we can tide over. Until then we are back to the question – do all airlines have the financial muscle to tide over this crisis?