Thursday, July 25, 2024

As The Skies Open Up

By Vijay Grover

Vijay Grover
Vijay Grover, Editor

India suspended scheduled international flights on 23 March 2020, serving a massive hit to aviation and related industries. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost globally almost overnight in the MRO, airport and hospitality industries. Nevertheless, the cargo segment witnessed a surge in business. Cargo operators have seen profits soar to unprecedented levels during the pandemic. Some airlines swiftly began temporary pax to cargo conversions of their regular passenger aircraft and began operating them as cargo aircraft.  Almost overnight civil aviation traffic came to a standstill, while countries shut their borders and restricted travel to the most essential only. Smaller operators disappeared under the guise of insolvency and older aircraft were sent into retirement.

Not surprisingly, therefore the announcement made in early March by Jyotiraditya Scindia the Minister of Civil Aviation sent the industry into jubilation. “After deliberation with stakeholders and keeping in view the decline in the Covid-19 caseload, we have decided to resume international travel from March 27 onwards”.

Carefully crafted travel corridors always existed through the Vaccinated Travel Lines (VTL), the air bubble arrangement with 37 countries. Limited flights were permitted, however, such traffic hardly ever supports a sustainable business case, and the sector creaked under the burden. The announcement comes with its challenges, the industry is now faced with the mammoth task of getting all the planes up in the sky from their parked or stored positions. Fortunately, India has the skilled manpower for a quick ramp-up and could potentially move into a winning position very efficiently. 

The minister further explained that the decision was based on “the increased vaccination coverage across the globe”.  The industry expects a burst of pent up demand and most airlines are now in the process of finalising the summer schedule for international flights.This announcement means that all international airlines will now be able to operate with capacity as agreed under the original bilateral air service agreements between India and their home country, instead of the restricted capacities decided under the air bubble arrangements. Prior to the suspension of flights in March 2020, approximately 580 international flights operated from India per day, 247 were operated by several Indian airlines and 333 were flown by international carriers who touch India.

International carrier Singapore Airlines was the first of the block and given the rush that the island country usually gets from India. Singapore Airlines resumed the Airbus A380 Superjumbo aircraft’s service from Singapore to India. The decision will nearly double the number of passengers it will be able to carry on its Mumbai- Singapore flight and later the A380 aircraft will be used on the Delhi route as well according to the airline.

Launching the A380 service Sy Yen Chen, General Manager of Singapore Airlines, said “We are thrilled to be able to bring our iconic super jumbo back to India. We are optimistic that this, along with the expansion of Singapore’s VTL arrangement, will inspire even more confidence for international travel to and from India”.

The opening offers hope to countries like the US, where the bilateral agreement with India says that unlimited flight frequencies can be operated by airlines of both countries, this would certainly result in a drop in fares for non-stop flights. Bangladesh based NOVOAIR announced a daily flight between Dhaka and Kolkata. Thailand, a popular vacation destination for Indians, will see better connectivity as budget carrier Indigo Airlines announced a resumption of flights between India and Thailand following a gap of two years. Fully vaccinated travellers from India can enter Thailand without quarantine, a report quoted IndiGo as saying. According to the new rules, travellers will need a negative PCR lab result before arrival and two more PCR tests after landing — one upon entry and another on their fifth day in Thailand.

The Centre has approved the airline’s domestic summer schedule for 2022, with an increase of 3.7 per cent compared to the pre-pandemic levels.  The summer schedule is effective from 27 March until 29 October and a 10 per cent growth in traffic is predicted by experts. As per data available, The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) approved the summer flight schedule of 25,309 domestic flights, adding 900 flights more than the summer schedule of 2020. According to the DGCA, out of the 112 airports, Gondia, Ziro and Pondicherry are the new airports proposed by the scheduled airlines.

IndiGo, which has the highest number of flights approved under the schedule, continues its dominance in the Indian skies with 11,130 approved flights. SpiceJet is at a distant second position with 4,192 approved flights. GoAir follows with 2,557 and Air India at 2,456. Vistara which has an approved flight strength of 1,741 and AirAsia India at 1,601 continue to maintain their foothold on the trunk routes that they serve.

On the domestic front, airlines are reviewing new routes. SpiceJet has announced it will add 60 new domestic flights to its Summer Schedule 2022, effective March 27, 2022. Among these are seven UDAN flights, eight industry-first flights, new connections and additional frequencies.

“In line with its commitment to enhancing connectivity to the remotest corners of the country, in the new schedule SpiceJet has launched seven new flights under UDAN on Hyderabad-Puducherry-Hyderabad, Gorakhpur-Kanpur-Gorakhpur, Gorakhpur-Varanasi-Gorakhpur and Varanasi-Patna sectors. Shilpa Bhatia, Chief Commercial Officer, SpiceJet told the media, “We are excited to launch new flights and further strengthen our domestic network. We believe the time is ripe to expand as travel demand is picking up and the aviation sector is ready to embrace new opportunities to make a stronger comeback.” We hope our new flights, including those under UDAN, in the upcoming Summer Schedule, will positively contribute in meeting the robust travel demand and give the sector the impetus to reach newer heights,” said Bhatia. 

Regional carrier Flybig also flagged off a daily flight on the Indore-Gondia-Hyderabad route on 12 March under the government’s UDAN Regional Connectivity Scheme. This also marks a first for the city of Gondia to be connected with other cities with a scheduled commercial flight.

As passengers come a-calling, airlines and the industry, in general, are set to witness tailwinds. The impact of such a demand certainly influences fares. With a fare war on the horizon, I suspect the average fare-paying passenger will witness a number of hard-to-resist offers. There is a lot of wooing to be done in this highly lucrative market, and with a bit of luck, airlines are geared to provide impeccable service at affordable prices. All eyes on Air India.


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