Why Indian carriers are not yet ready to fly at full pre-Covid capacity

Domestic air travel was resumed on May 25 at 33 per cent capacity, which was increased to 80 per cent in December

Why Indian carriers are not yet ready to fly at full pre-Covid capacity
Aircraft at the Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Instagram/spottersingh

Amid the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive, preparations are in full swing to bring life back to normal and give impetus to businesses that have borne the brunt of the pandemic. The government is making efforts to restart the sectors that contribute the most to the Indian economy. The aviation industry is surely one of them. 

Now, according to reports, the government has begun consultations to lift the curbs on airlines and let them operate to their full capacity. The government may soon allow the airlines to start operations as they existed before the pandemic resulted in the shutdown of most of the aviation services.

The airlines, meanwhile, seem to be cautious and have told the government that they would not be able to operate at full capacity without clarity on the return of traffic. The airlines have asked the government to delay such a move, implying that they would not be able to profitably deploy any more capacity.

Domestic air travel was suspended on March 25 as the lockdown came into effect. It resumed on May 25 in a calibrated manner and with elaborate Covid-19 safety protocols in place.

Also read: Covid-19 crisis easing for Indian airlines as govt allows capacity hike to 80%

Airlines were allowed to operate at only 33% capacity after factoring in social distancing norms, though according to a Business Today report in June, the airlines were operating at only 25% capacity. The government raised the capacity limit to 45% by the end of June and to 60% in September. As domestic traffic surged, the government in November permitted airlines to hike capacity to 70%. It was further increased in December and airlines were allowed to operate 80% of pre-Covid flights. 

According to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, the number of domestic passengers is growing rapidly towards the pre-Covid level. On January 24, 2021, the total footfall at airports was 5,14,621 and the total number of flight movements was 4,271.  

Scheduled commercial international air travel was suspended on March 23. It is yet to resume. The ban has been repeatedly extended as the Covid-19 situation is yet to be brought firmly under control and governments continuing to be wary about opening up of borders. As of today, the ban is to run till January 31, 2021 but may be extended after a review. The detection of a new and more infectious strain of the coronavirus in the UK and several other countries has tended to erode the confidence of governments to allow a resumption of regular air travel. 

Also read: Indian aviation inches towards pre-Covid normalcy with baggage policy easing

However, the rollout of Covid vaccines in a number of countries, including India, and practices like Covid tests have provided hope that regular international air travel can start again soon. As of now, international air travel to and from India is being organised only under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) for the repatriation of stranded people and under the bilateral air bubble arrangements that India has with over 20 countries.