Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Glimmer of hope in domestic airport traffic, but true revival long way off

The busiest airport in the country at Delhi bounced back into the black in March this year reporting a growth of 5.6 per cent. It catered to 2.9 million domestic passengers as compared to 2.7 million in March last year. March is the latest month for which passenger traffic data is available in the public domain with the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

Delhi airport was not alone in turning the corner since the pandemic hit domestic aviation leading to a complete ban on domestic flights for two months till operations resumed on May 25 last year.

Another large airport, Hyderabad also turned the corner and reported a 10 per cent growth in domestic passengers handled in March this year at just under one million (9.9 lakh) as against 9 lakh domestic passengers handled in March 2020. Even Bengaluru showed some signs of revival as it reported a marginal loss of 0.7 per cent at 1.4 million domestic passengers as compared to 1.41 million in March 2020.

These large airports joined the growing number of airports in smaller towns and cities which returned to the positive zone beginning with Belgaum airport in Karnataka which was the first airport in the country to report a turnaround in terms of passengers handled in September last year (after May 25 when the COVID lockdown was partially lifted).

In September last year, Belgaum handled 23,170 domestic passengers as against 21,339 domestic passengers in the same month in 2019, a growth of 8.6 per cent.

However, promising though these numbers are, domestic aviation’s revival still seem a long way off as the sector has been battered by a fresh COVID wave sweeping the country. Given the situation, analysts and industry watchers are not too optimistic about the near future as well.

For example, in a little more than a month after turning the corner, Delhi airport announced that it was shifting all its operations to a single terminal from May 18 because of fewer flights and flyers. The airport has three passenger terminals.

Domestic traffic in March 2021 was still 33 per cent below pre-COVID January 2020 levels, says a report on Indian Air Traffic Recovery conducted by ICF India. "Recovery strengthened in February but is slowing down going forward,” Pulkit Kapoor, Senior Consultant Aviation and Sharad Gambhir, Manager, Aviation, ICF India say in their report.

17/05/21 Ashwini Phadnis/Moneycontro.com

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