Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri expects the domestic market to return to full capacity by the end of the year, but sees little chance of international travel reopening anytime soon with border restrictions in place.
Addressing a press conference here on Saturday, Puri said unless 50-55 per cent of domestic flights restart, there’s no business case for resuming international routes. Admitting the challenge in scaling up due to quarantine measures across states, the minister pointed out that India’s domestic operation was comparable with other countries including the US, UK and those in Europe.
Domestic flights resumed on May 25 but airlines are currently allowed to operate one-third (33 per cent) of their total capacity.
“I will not say there is no demand. Even with restrictions imposed by different states, we have been able to operate around 25 per cent of what it was before the pandemic. Our scale of operations post-opening up is at par with other countries. So if quarantine measures in states are relaxed, it (the operations) will increase very soon,” Puri said.
According to data published by IATA till late May, flight levels in South Korea, China and Vietnam “have risen to a point which is just 22-28 per cent lower than a year earlier”.
Puri is optimistic that the Indian market will go the same way. “If I can achieve 55 percent of 2019 capacity by mid July, I hope to have all 650 aircraft flying by the end of the year. That’s the most optimistic reading of civil aviation for any country,” he said.
Aviation consultancy firm CAPA said the Chinese domestic market would reach 90 per cent of its pre-Covid capacity by the end of 2020.
However, airline executives argue that demand is primarily unidirectional and only on specific east-India cities from metros. Data from travel firms show that over 90 per cent of flight bookings are for one-way trips and on non-metro routes, indicating scarce demand for business travel. “It is very optimistic to expect things to be normal by December. It depends on how fast the vaccine is made,” an airline executive said.
“We have noticed a spike in demand in metro to non-metro travel over the conventional routes. Delhi-Patna and Mumbai-Varanasi are among the most top booked routes,’’ said Saujanya Srivastava, Chief Operating Officer-Flights at Make My Trip.
In an indication that resumption of international flights will be delayed, Puri referred to most countries having some kind of border restriction or the other. Also, restrictive domestic operations will have to be loosened before international operations resume, he said.
Repatriation flights will be scaled up due to demand there. Private carriers have also joined the exercise along with state-owned Air India.
Keen to open up the economy, the Ministry of Civil Aviation plans to step up domestic flight movement to 50 per cent of the total capacity. The ministry has sought suggestions from airlines on whether it will be feasible to increase the scale of operations. However, industry sources said that except market leader IndiGo and Air India, others have cited weak demand as a challenge to scale up.
‘’We will open more routes where there’s more demand. We are ready to take it to up to even 50-55 per cent capacity,’’ Puri said