West Bengal restricts flights, passengers and airlines look for loop holes

Effective January 05, 2022, the West Bengal government has put restrictions on flights arriving into the state from Delhi and Mumbai. Flights to West Bengal from Delhi and Mumbai will be allowed only on three days of the week. These days have been fixed as Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This is in addition to the existing curbs in place for flights arriving from Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Pune which are currently capped at thrice a week. This comes on the back of the state government banning non-stop flights between UK and West Bengal starting this week. The new circular adds another day (Wednesdays) to the list, from the earlier two.

The state government of West Bengal has been on the forefront for adding curbs. In July 2020, the state government had banned all flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Nagpur. From September 1 that year, flights from all these cities were allowed thrice a week. While restrictions for Delhi were removed in December 2020, it continued for Mumbai and Chennai until October 2021.

While the curbs are in place, the circular declaring these curbs does not mention any on-arrival testing requirements. These one way restrictions make it challenging for airlines and passengers alike.

Which routes and airports are impacted?

West Bengal has three operational airports – Kolkata, Bagdogra and Durgapur. The impact will be felt at all three, since they have direct flights to both Mumbai and Delhi.

Data released by DGCA (last available for the month of September) shows that the traffic between Delhi and Kolkata stood at 78,000 while that between Mumbai and Kolkata was at 33,800. The traffic between Delhi and Bagdogra was close to 37,000 while that between Mumbai and Bagdogra was close to 2000. The traffic between Durgapur to Delhi and Mumbai stood in the range of 2000 and 1600 respectively.

Kolkata had recently regained its fourth position amongst airports – domestic traffic after being fifth for most of 2021.

Airlines can continue to sell one-stop flights to Kolkata on all days of the week and such flights are already selling shows one look at various websites and airline booking engines. This is a drag on the balance sheet for airlines as well as additional money for passengers to reach their destination.

Network Thoughts

Frequently changing rules and regulations are a nightmare for airlines as well as passengers. While it leads to initiating cancellations, re-accommodation and initiating IRROPS (Irregular Operations) to reach out to passengers from the airline perspective, the impact on passenger is significant since it leads to change in travel dates and corresponding bookings which impact hospitality industry as well.

The airlines will have a larger impact for operations to Bagdogra since it is part of Route Dispersal Guidelines (RDG). The impact will be felt the highest for Vistara – which has wafer thin margins to adjust Category II routes (Delhi – Bagdogra) and similar for Category II A routes (Bagdogra – Dibrugarh). While Go FIRST and SpiceJet also have limited scope to adjust routes under RDG to garner Category IIA ASKs(Available Seat Kilometers), these two airlines do not operate any routes out of Bagdogra which help accumualte Category IIA ASKs.

It is too early to say how the next wave of COVID impacts the country, but it certainly will have an impact on passengers and airlines. Flying the same route one-stop comes at a cost for both airlines and passengers.

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