Maharashtra could see reduced air traffic as new last minute rules come in effect

Maharashtra – home to the financial capital of the country, Mumbai – has put in place stringent guidelines to tackle the new variant of COVID-19 named Omicron. Mumbai, is also the second busiest airport in the country and these rules will affect passengers travelling to Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nanded, Nashik, Shirdi, Kolhapur and Jalgaon in addition to Mumbai. 

New rules

The new rules which came into effect via a circular dated Nov 30, 2021 will impact both Domestic and International travelers. Some of these rules have been in place in the past and more often than not it has been difficult to keep a track of passengers in home quarantine!

Domestic

For passengers who are traveling within the state, the new rules mandate the passenger to be fully vaccinated or have a negative RT-PCR report for a test conducted within 48 hours of travel. 

The routes impacted would be from Mumbai to Nagpur, Sindhudurg, Kolhapur, Nanded, Jalgaon and Aurangabad; from Pune to Nashik and Nagpur amongst others. 

For passengers who are entering Maharashtra from outside the state, a negative RT-PCR within 48 hours of arrival is mandatory irrespective of the vaccination status. 

International

Passengers arriving from countries which have been categorised as High Risk by MoHFW will have to undergo mandatory institutional quarantine for a period of one week from arrival with RT-PCR tests being conducted while in quarantine (On day 2, 4 and 7). 

While passengers arriving from all other countries will have to undergo mandatory testing on arrival, followed by home quarantine. 

Impact

After over a year of runway repair work, it’s only today that Pune – the second busiest airport in the state has reverted back to a 24 hour operation. The restrictions will have an immediate impact as more cities are connected to Pune starting today. Likewise Nagpur is connected to 

The smaller airports will have the maximum impact. Nanded, for example, is connected to Amritsar, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Likewise Jalgaon is connected to Ahmedabad and Kolhapur has more flights to destinations in other states like Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Tirupati than to Mumbai. The story is no different for Nashik. Aurangabad, had just about restored connectivity and would have probably seen some tourist traffic, which now could be in jeopardy. The temple town of Shirdi could again see connectivity go down. Shirdi attracts religious tourists and the town had lost air connectivity when the temples were closed.

Last minute changes causing inconvenience 

Maharashtra has consistently been the worst state in India in terms of COVID numbers. While it is understood that the state wants to have better control this time around and hence have more stringent restrictions, the haphazard manner in which restrictions have been introduced is not justified. 

Institutional quarantine, for example, was introduced just hours before the effective date – which meant that passengers were unaware about this while boarding the flight. Likewise, for domestic flights – with double vaccination and an interval of two weeks from the second dose has been a valid restriction free travel norm. The new circular takes the state back by a few months. The last minute order also puts passengers flying on December 01, 2021 in a quandary. 

In the past, there have been news reports of passengers skipping Institutional quarantine by bribing. In addition, the state has had rules and a pass which supersedes the vaccination certificate with entries to many places like malls, restricted only to those who have the pass. Little compliance has ever been seen on ground!

Network Thoughts

There is likely to be an immediate slump in travel for the next few days for flights to/from Maharashtra.

November has seen a fantastic recovery in Indian aviation with passenger numbers averaging at 81.8% of pre-COVID levels and flights operated averaging at 84.5% of approved winter schedule.

There have been very few states which have continued restrictions and Maharashtra – which had done away with most, is getting back more stringent ones. Its implementation on ground remains a question mark! This could also lead to passengers opting to fly to Delhi or other airports where the quarantine mandate is not in place. December is a busy period for foreign arrivals as Indians and people of Indian origin make a trip home, this time after two years in most cases!

This will be another blow to the airports in the state and domestic passenger traffic. Data released by Airports Authority of India for October shows that recovery has not been great for airports in Maharashtra. Domestic air traffic in October as compared to pre-COVID numbers was only at 64% for Mumbai, 31% for Pune – largely due to the airport being completely shut for operations for two weeks, 55% for Nagpur, 51% for Aurangabad, 76% for Kolhapur, 47% each for for Nashik and Jalgaon, , 27% for Nanded and just 17% for Shirdi.

The situation is changing very fast and readers are advised to check the latest guidelines from airlines and airports before travel. 

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