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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Covid surge, mandatory tests cast a shadow over air travel

Currently, the Centre has allowed airlines to fly with 80 per cent of their pre-Covid schedules.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: April 15, 2021 12:25:46 pm
COVID-19, air travel, air travel during pandemic, coronavirus cases in india, air travel rules in india, air travel restrictions in india, india news, indian expressA man gets tested at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. (Express Photo)

The daily number of domestic passengers departing from Indian airports fell below the 2 lakh-mark for the first time in almost five months on Tuesday. Those closely tracking the sector almost unanimously attributed the fall in air traffic demand to the requirements of mandatory negative Covid test reports and random checks upon arrival at airports by various states. According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, 1.83 lakh passengers departed from Indian airports on domestic flights on Tuesday. This number was 2.59 lakh exactly a month ago on March 13.

As per Health Ministry data, as of Wednesday 8 am, India had 13,65,704 active Covid19 cases, an increase of 1,01,006 cases compared to a day ago.

Currently, the Centre has allowed airlines to fly with 80 per cent of their pre-Covid schedules. Most domestic airlines, however, earlier this week represented to the Civil Aviation Ministry that it should reduce the capacity restriction from 80 per cent to 60 per cent, given that bookings have fallen by as much as 50 per cent.

Aviation analysis portal NetworkThoughts’ Ameya Joshi said Tuesday’s departure numbers were below 2 lakh for the first time in 145 days, adding: “The fall in air traffic is inversely proportional to the rise in Covid cases. The steep fall could mean a double whammy for the airlines since the cost of operations have also gone up significantly — due to increased ATF prices and weakening rupee. Need for negative RT-PCR, rising cases, lockdown like conditions are leading to a loss of travel appetite”.

So far, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, Odisha, and Uttarakhand are among those states that have introduced the requirement of carrying a negative Covid RT-PCR test report for passengers arriving from either high-risk states in some cases or a blanket requirement in others. On Wednesday, West Bengal announced passengers arriving at Kolkata airport from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Telangana must carry RT-PCR negative test report conducted within 72 hours before departure.

Prashant Pitti, co-founder and executive director of online travel agency EaseMyTrip.com said, “Travel industry is seeing correction of 20 per cent due to second wave of Covid, as airports have made it mandatory to carry negative RT-PCR report”.

Another key trend emerging as a result of the mandatory testing requirements is that travellers are booking tickets closer to the travel date. This is mainly because most states are requiring passengers to have their tests conducted within 72 hours of departure and the longer turnaround times of the test result add to the uncertainty. “There has been a slight increase in flight cancellations as consumers are cognizant about rising numbers in Covid-19 cases. Customers are now, looking to book closer to the travel date…,” said Sabina Chopra, co-founder and COO, corporate travel and head-industry, Yatra.com.

Going ahead, ratings agency Icra said the restrictions being imposed by states is further expected to hit air traffic numbers. This is likely to further strain airlines, many of which have approached the government for a financial package. “In addition to the passengers being apprehensive for air travel, domestic airports are mandating negative Covid test reports for travel and imposing mandatory home quarantine measures, which will adversely impact the passenger traffic in April 2021 … around 15 states have mandated a negative RT-PCR test report from all or some arriving passengers, few states have imposed mandatory home quarantine for seven days … with the rise in the cases across metros, new restrictions cannot be ruled out, which could further impact the traffic movement,” the rating agency noted.

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