Thursday, April 15, 2021

Covid surge hits air travel, so carriers turn to govt for financial help, lower capacity limit

New Delhi: The surge in Covid-19 cases in India hit a new high Thursday with over two lakh cases — the highest in a day since the pandemic began last year. And this new wave of infections is proving to be another big hurdle on the road to recovery for India’s beleaguered aviation industry.

ThePrint has learnt from sources in the Ministry of Civil Aviation that airlines have requested it for financial support, but a decision is yet to be taken. Some airlines have also expressed the desire to reduce the capacity limits from 80 per cent to 60 per cent, but there is no consensus on this latter point, sources said.

India’s domestic air traffic had reduced from 10.8 crore passengers between April to December 2019 to three crore in the corresponding period of 2020, while the number of international passengers dropped from 5.21 crore in April-December 2019 to just 55.9 lakh in the same period of 2020. This led to losses of Rs 16,000 crore for Indian carriers, while airports lost approximately Rs 3,000 crore, according to the government’s answer to a question raised in the Lok Sabha.

But now, barely a month after leading airlines like Vistara, SpiceJet and IndiGo had begun rebuilding by expanding their fleet, introducing new routes and hiring more staff, passenger loads have begun to drop again due to the fresh wave of Covid infections.

Several states have announced different kinds of measures like lockdowns, night curfews and mandatory RT-PCR tests within 72 hours of arrival, leading to a drop in air traffic over the last two weeks. Airlines are witnessing a 20-50 per cent drop in bookings.

Usha Padhee, joint secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, said: “Passenger load factors are badly impacted and domestic airlines are finding it difficult to maintain their frequency of flights. During peak, we had passenger numbers of 20 lakh per week. Last week, it was 15 lakh passengers per week,”

A Vistara spokesperson confirmed: “Due to a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases and implementation of several measures by various states, we are witnessing a decline in demand and passenger traffic.”

15/04/21 Taran Deol/Print

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