Foreign airlines, which hand nearly two-thirds of India’s international air traffic every year, are expected to reduce their services over the next one month in the aftermath of the Centre cancelling all valid visas, except certain categories, effective Friday till April 15. According to an official at a West Asian airline, foreign nationals account for 50-70 per cent of passenger traffic for overseas carriers operating to India. Even though airlines will be the first ones to suffer the the blow of this lockdown, the Indian Association of Tour Operators has estimated that the cascading effect will cause a direct loss of over Rs 8,500 crore to aviation, travel and hotels segments.
A spokesperson for Emirates, the largest foreign carrier flying to India, said: “The situation continues to evolve and remains dynamic. India is an important market for us, and we are currently operating our services as scheduled across our nine destinations – Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kochi, Mumbai, and Thiruvananthapuram”. As per the latest data, Emirates carried 1.51 million passengers to and from Indian airports during the three-month period ended June 30, 2019.
Doha-based Qatar Airways, which operates to 13 cities in India, has reduced its services to some airports such as Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. All Indian carriers flying to Doha have already cancelled their flights to the airport due to Qatari government restricting entry of Indian nationals into Doha.
The Indian Express reached out to British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Etihad, Air France and Singapore Airlines. Air France, which flies to four cities in India, did not respond to e-mail queries. Rest of the airlines said they were assessing the situation and did not comment on whether they were reducing capacities.
A senior Oman Air executive posted in India said the airline, which has already witnessed a decline in bookings to its Indian stations over the past few weeks, was considering reducing frequencies and operating smaller aircraft after studying passenger loads.
“A big share of our travellers are Indians, and the move is applicable on foreigners, but we will see some impact. We are yet to really gauge the impact. Overall, we have seen a drop in bookings over the last few weeks. But now that the advisory (of visa cancellation) has gone out, people will cancel their bookings immediately,” the executive said.
“We have quite a few people coming in from Oman as well for tourism, medical purposes, education, etc, which will definitely stop during this period. A lot of other tourists that come on Oman Air from our other European stations will also be impacted. We operate to 11 cities and to many of these cities we have triple daily flights and double daily flights. We are studying the flight loads and the plan is to see whether we can combine some flights if the loads are not high. To some airports, we operate wide-bodied aircraft and after looking at loads, we will operate with smaller aircraft,” he added.
In addition to foreign carriers, domestic airlines, which also have a significant exposure to international routes, are considering curtailing their operations.
“The latest update on suspension of visas from all countries to India is expected to have a substantial impact on the foreign tourist arrival in the country which was already witnessing a drop due to the prevailing situation. We have received close to 35 per cent cancellation queries from travelers planning their trip to foreign destinations. With few Indian airlines having suspended flight operations to destinations with high Coronavirus risk, airfares have dropped by 40 per cent to affected destinations. There has been an about 18 per cent drop in hotel rates and we are receiving cancellation requests from various travelers who are wary of taking up trips domestically as well,” said Sabina Chopra, co-founder and COO, corporate travel & head-industry relations, Yatra.com
An Air India official said the airline, which has already suspended its flights to Rome and Milan, was further looking to truncate its international flights in light of weak passenger demand.
A spokesperson for Vistara, which took delivery of its first wide-bodied aircraft earlier this month, said: “Business on some of our international and domestic routes has been impacted as Covid-19 continues to spread world over. At Vistara, we are reviewing the situation everyday and remain nimble in our approach”. The firm did not respond to specific queries about its plan to further induct wide-bodied planes given the current scenario.
IndiGo did not respond to e-mail queries. A senior executive at the airline, however, noted that the carrier was “considering all possible options to deal with the crisis”.
Another executive at a low-cost carrier said while it was necessary to restrict global travel, the move will have implications in the long term. “Right now, a number of companies have reduced travel and have implemented work from home policies. This will make business managers realise the potential to achieve similar outputs on curtailed cost-structures. This mindset is something that will be the pain-point for airlines and the travel industry as a whole going ahead,” the executive pointed out.
Air Tanzania has suspended its flights to Mumbai between March 13 and April 15 citing India’s visa restrictions. Also, RwandAir said it was temporarily suspending flights to Mumbai till April 30.
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