The Centre with two decisions Friday has moved further in the direction of fully resuming flight operations in the country. One, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), while extending the international flight suspension to July 15, said international scheduled flights may be allowed on selected routes on case-to-case basis. Two, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has allowed airlines to operate up to 45 per cent of their pre-lockdown scheduled capacity on domestic routes, compared with 30-35 per cent earlier.
On the one hand, the slight relaxation of restrictions on international operations could pave the way for foreign airlines to resume flights to India in line with the government’s proposal of establishing travel bubbles or air bridges with countries like the US, the UK, France, Germany, etc. On the other hand, airline executives said the move on domestic flight operations could help them resume flights to airports where they have not yet started flying post the unlock on May 25. However, according to an official at a low-cost airline, Indian carriers are flying only 65 per cent of their approved 1,200 flights a day on account of weak demand on certain sectors and restrictions imposed by state governments.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said earlier that the government would consider resuming scheduled international flight operations once domestic operations function at a 50-55 per cent capacity. “In one month since recommencement of calibrated domestic civil aviation operations in the country, our skies & airports have been busy. 18,92,581 passengers have flown so far on 21,316 flights across the country. Going forward, these numbers will grow further,” Puri said Friday.
Usha Padhee, joint secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation said: “Domestic airlines ferried 18 lakh passengers in one month. Over 700 flights a day are operating. These numbers are low on a year-on-year basis. We will rework, renew and retune our strategies for the growth of the sector as we go along”.
According to data released by the DGCA for the one week of domestic flight operations in May, domestic airlines operated at significantly low load factors. India’s largest airline IndiGo registered a load factor of just 52.6 per cent. A senior airline official said that this was because of heavy one-way demand on certain routes where flights going to smaller towns from metros were fully packed, while the return legs were nearly empty.
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