Two months since the resumption of domestic passenger flights after remaining suspended from March 23 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand has been tepid, with only 19.84 lakh passengers travelling within the country. In June 2019, the number was 1.21 crore.
With people yet to get accustomed to flying in a post-Covid world, fear of contracting the virus onboard and a flurry of quarantine rules and restrictions imposed by state governments have also added to the challenge.
Keeping in mind the increase in Covid cases, the Union Aviation Ministry has extended restrictions on domestic flights till November 24, including the cap on airfares.
This comes even as the Ministry has allowed gradual resumption of international flights to the US, France and Germany under the temporary reciprocal arrangement.
According to the latest notification by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), airlines have been allowed to deploy 45 per cent of the pre-Covid capacity on domestic routes. For most of last month, airlines were allowed to operate with 30-35 per cent of the total number of flights they operated prior to the lockdown.
It was estimated that following the resumption in May, the airlines will reach 50 per cent of their pre-Covid operations. However, at a press conference earlier this month, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said domestic flight operations have not even reached 33 per cent of the previous operations.
The Centre has extended restrictions on domestic flights till November 24 from August 24 earlier. Previously, the government had fixed minimum and maximum fares and mandated airlines to sell 40 per cent seats below the mid-point of the fare band on each flight till 11.59 pm of August 24. The validity of this order has been extended for three more months till 11.59 pm of November 24.
The fare limits have been divided into seven bands according to the flight duration. The first band, with its specific lower and upper fare limits, comprises flights with a duration of 40 minutes or less. The second, third, fourth and fifth bands are for flights with duration of 40-60 minutes, 60-90 minutes, 90-120 minutes and 120-150 minutes, respectively.
Coming to the price band as fixed by the Centre, domestic flights with less than 40-minute duration have lower and upper limits of Rs 2,000 and Rs 6,000, for 40-60 minutes Rs 2,500 and Rs 7,500, for 60-90 minutes Rs 3,000 and Rs 9,000, for 90-120 minutes Rs 3,500 and Rs 10,000, for 120-150 minutes Rs 4,500 and Rs 13,000, for 150-180 minutes Rs 5,500 and Rs 15,700 and for 180-210 minutes Rs 6,500 and Rs 18,600.
The government has allowed airlines to operate from all airports even though the airlines will take the final decision on which airports to include in their network depending on passenger demand.
To check the rising cases in the state, the West Bengal government has banned flights from six Covid-19 hotspot cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Nagpur and Ahmedabad — to Kolkata till July 31. Moreover, with the state observing a bi-weekly total lockdown, the Airports Authority of India suspended all flights on those days this week to Kolkata and Bagdogra. They will be suspended again when the lockdown is imposed next week on Wednesday.
Asked if the rule would be extended to all days of the bi-weekly lockdown, an official of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata said it was a possibility, adding, “Most probably, it will be extended to all lockdown days. But the state government will make an announcement.”