Theoretically, carriers can locally fly 1,500 flights a day, or about 45% of the pre-Covid daily run. But airlines continue to operate 750 to 800 flights with an average of about 60% of seats full – not the most encouraging sign for an industry buffeted by high fixed and variable costs.
“Airlines are not adding flights because people are not flying due to the fear of Covid-19. Unilateral lockdown announced by some states and quarantine norms in some other are among the reasons that further discourage people from taking flights,” said a senior government official, who did not want to be named.
The government, which allowed airlines to restart domestic flights from May 25 after a two month lockdown, had first allowed airlines to operate about 33% of pre-Covid flights. The airlines could not even fully utilise the 33% option.
During the second half of June, the government then allowed airlines to increase the number of flights by a third to 45% of the pre-Covid-19 levels. The expectations then were that airlines would launch flights to new destinations but that did not happen. Total number of daily flights remained in the range of 750 to 800 and airlines have virtually not even utilised the new quota in about six weeks.
While industry analysts were predicting a long-term revival of the sector, the government was hopeful of seeing revival by November this year, which seems unlikely.
Industry analysts also expect a protracted drag.
“Demand for air travel will remain muted as long as there is fear of contracting Covid through travel, and as long as there are complicated quarantine requirements. Sudden lockdowns are also dampening demand as people do not want to get stuck once they travel,” said Sanjiv Kapoor, an industry veteran formerly associated with SpiceJet and Vistara.
“In this situation, putting and raising caps doesn’t make any difference, as demand is well below the caps. People will travel freely once they are comfortable and can travel safely,” said Kapoor. “However, collapsing GDP and corporate and personal incomes will mute eventual recovery as well.”