Though domestic air travel was allowed from end of May, data from DGCA indicates that the demand is nowhere near to pre-COVID or 2019 levels. In June & July 2020, domestic air passenger traffic was down to 17% of the 2019 levels. Indigo commanded a market share of more than 60% in July 2020.
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions were imposed in India and abroad. To restrict the movement of people, flights were suspended in India for over two months (April & May). Domestic flights resumed services in India from 25 May 2020 with heightened safety measures like social distancing, respiratory hygiene, regular disinfection of aircrafts and airports, and provision of masks and face shields for travellers.
The aviation sector was among the worst hit due to the pandemic. The lockdown measures and the additional expenses for safety have put to test the sustainability of airline companies. Even after resumption of domestic air travel, it is not business as usual. People have limited their travel and are travelling only when it’s absolutely necessary. Data of domestic air travel in India for the months of May, June & July of 2020 indicates that airlines companies will have to wait a little longer for the demand to get back to normal.
Domestic commercial airline services were grounded for two months to control COVID-19
Following the announcement of nationwide lockdown, domestic commercial airlines were grounded from 25 March 2020 for a period of two months. From 25 May 2020, domestic airlines resumed services in a calibrated manner. There was no domestic commercial operation of aircrafts in the month of April. When domestic flights resumed operation, the number of domestic flights that could be operated was only 33% of their pre-COVID capacity. This was later increased to 45%.
Only around 43 lakh passengers travelled by air since domestic flights began operation after the Lockdown
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has reported that 2.81 Lakh passengers have travelled in the last week of May 2020 after domestic flights were allowed. In June 2020, this number went up to 19.84 Lakh passengers and to 21.07 Lakh passengers in July 2020. This is the first time in the last many years when the domestic air passenger traffic has decreased in the months of May, June, and July compared to the previous year. The domestic passenger traffic plummeted by nearly 97.7% in May, 83.5% in June, and 82.3% in July 2020 following the pandemic. In other words, the domestic air passenger traffic in June 2020 was only 16.5% of the number in June 2019 and in July 2020, it was only 17.7% of the number in July 2019.
Between January & July 2020, Domestic Air Passenger Traffic dropped by 58%
Between 2016 and 2019, the domestic air passenger traffic in the first seven months (January to July) increased by 47%, from over 5.6 crore passengers in 2016 to 8.25 crores in 2019. In 2020, this number has dropped by almost 58%. Only a total of 3.72 crore passengers had travelled in 2020 between January and July, of which more than 3.29 crore passengers had travelled prior to the lockdown- before 25 March 2020. Only 43.72 Lakh passengers have travelled between 25 May and 31 July 2020. In the months from May to July, 2.51 crore passengers had travelled in 2016, 2.93 crores in 2017, 3.47 crores in 2018, and 3.61 crores in 2019, according to DGCA’s monthly air traffic statistics.
Around 49,000 persons travelled by Air India in May 2020
From the time domestic flight services resumed post lockdown, the number of passengers opting for private airlines has increased. Around 49 thousand passengers, accounting for 17% of those who travelled in May 2020 travelled by Air India. Since then, the proportion of passengers travelling in Air India has dropped to 12.2% and 9.1% in June and July respectively. The percentage of passengers travelling via Spice Jet, Air Asia, and Vistara has also declined over the three months. Air Deccan, Air Heritage, and Zoom Air had not operated during the three months while Go Air began operations from June.
IndiGo commanded 60.4% of the market share in July 2020
Indigo has led the domestic market and that too by quite some distance. IndiGo’s market share in the domestic market has increased from 50.6% in May to 52.8% in June, and to 60.4% in July. Of the 43 Lakh passengers who travelled post lockdown till end of July, around 24.6 Lakh passengers or 56% had travelled via IndiGo. This is higher than the total number of passengers who travelled in May and June 2020, put together. This is possible also because of the large fleet that Indigo has at its disposal.
IndiGo’s website also mentions that the airlines has had 10 consecutive years of profitable operations. According to a Lok Sabha answer on financial performance of different airlines, in 2018-19, Indigo had reported a loss for the first time since 2014-15. Majority of the airlines companies had reported their worst losses in 2018-19 which would only be further exacerbated due to the pandemic, as already seen in an earlier story by Factly. The potential impact of the pandemic on the aviation sector will depend on its duration and severity.
Asia pacific region is expected to face a loss of $29 billion, more than one-third of global loss
According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airlines in the Asia Pacific region will be the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis with losses expected to be around $29 billion in 2020, more than one-third of $84.3 billion loss expected globally in the sector. Further, it would take a couple of years to return to the levels of activity in 2019. As jobs, conferences, and social gatherings shift to online mode, at least for the next couple of months, it would indeed take some time for the demand and operations to get back to how it was prior to the pandemic. Aviation sector is also affected by the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry. Survival and sustenance of airline companies has become more difficult because of the pandemic.