How Indian aviation is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic

Despite the rising COVID-19 cases in India, the government has decided to restart a large number of economic activities in the country. The aviation industry, which was one of the worst hit, has therefore started to regain traction.

An IndiGo Airbus A321neo pictured at Hamburg Airport. Photo by Pascal Weste | AeroNewsX

Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport which, according to Cirium data was ranked first in the list of storage locations for passenger jets in the Asia-Pacific region, has now dropped to 10th place which is a positive sign as it shows that the aviation industry in India is slowly recovering.

India’s largest low-cost carrier, IndiGo, flew 158 of its aircraft during the seven-day period ending 13th June, which totals approximately two-thirds of its fleet. Air India had the most active aircraft at this time with 70 active planes (which is 56% of its fleet). This mostly included wide-body aircraft as it was often flying long-haul flights to repatriate a large number of people through the country's Vande Bharat rescue mission. This was the only airline which was actually earning profits during the lockdown thanks to the repatriation flights it was assigned, all of which came with a price tag fixed by the Indian aviation regulator. Air India and its subsidiary had flown approximately 66,800 passengers on its 365 flights by the end of phase two of the Vande Bharat mission. Tickets for these flights were surprisingly sold within minutes of being put up for sale. The demand was such that the Indian Embassies in various countries had to put a lottery system in place for the people who wanted to fly back to India.

When India entered into a complete lockdown, more than 200 aircraft were put into storage at Delhi Airport. Now, the number has reduced significantly and there are only approximately 50 or so jets which are still in storage.

The Indian aviation industry did not receive any aid package from the government which has now made the situation for the airlines in India even more fragile. IndiGo, which originally had no intention of laying off its employees was forced to do so because of the cash crunch. Currently, the government has allowed for only 33% of scheduled flights to go ahead.

Initially, demand for flights when the lockdown was lifted was said to be overwhelming for airlines. However, demand then started to gradually decrease. Many factors have led to this situation, the most important being the COVID-19; India’s coronavirus cases have been drastically increasing which is in turn affecting load factor for airlines. Many companies have shifted to the “Work from Home” model which has reduced the number of business travellers which in turn affects airlines hard.

When it comes to generating revenue and minimising losses, airlines have left no stone unturned; from converting passenger aircraft to cargo, to reducing their workforce. Many airlines have an eye on increasing their revenue from charter flights, as a matter of fact, with the government of India recently announcing that it would now allow private airlines to operate under the “Vande Bharat“ scheme which will undoubtedly bring in some revenue as most of the flights operated under this mission operate at full capacity. SpiceJet for instance, has already operated 200 charter flights to bring back almost 30,000 Indians stranded abroad.

In the coming days, India is expected to ease lockdown restrictions even further however, it remains to been seen how this will affect the aviation industry.


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