COVID-19’s second wave in India has cast a dark shadow on the Indian aviation sector. Airlines were looking at a good summer recovery but the rising number of cases and the consequent restrictions, curfews have led to a sharp decline in passenger traffic. Industry experts believe the coming weeks could be a big setback to airlines which had just about started a gradual journey to pre-Covid numbers.
Air Vistara feels good that this time around, at least, there’s no shutdown of aviation operations like last time, but recovery to pre-Covid numbers has been delayed.
“We have had a setback in the last few days if not weeks considering the rising number of cases in the country have seen a decline. However we do recognise that air travel is very safe, it is something that we are very confident about. Air travel is still permitted and we are thankful to the ministry and the govt for this. We saw growth through January and February and we were looking at going back to pre-Covid numbers this summer, but it may not materialise because of the second wave,” said Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer, Air Vistara
In a meeting with Ministry of Civil Aviation last week, airlines urged the government for a financial assistance package for the aviation sector. There has been no financial aid from the govt for airlines since the pandemic began last year.
India’s daily domestic passenger traffic is now below 2,00,000 for the first time since November, 2020. Industry sources say bookings are down by at least 50% and some airlines are bleeding. The present 80% cap on domestic flights is unlikely to be extended to 100% and could be brought down to 60% due to fall in demand amidst rising Covid cases. Sources say most airlines asked for the cap to be reduced instead of being increased to full capacity.
Before the second wave hit India, aviation experts were hopeful about the sector. Many airlines had even rolled back salary cuts of employees due to a steady recovery over the last few months. But the second wave has stalled recovery. Credit rating agency CRISIL said this slowdown could lead to net losses of Rs 9,500-10,000 crore this fiscal year. This is still better than last year which saw a total shutdown of operations for nearly two months. The Indian Aviation sector is resilient. Airlines are confident that passengers trust flying to be safe and while the recovery of the sector has been delayed, the revival is inevitable.
“I believe we have constant discussions with various parts of the government machinery and the ministry as such to bring forward some of the reforms and requests that we had in place. But the biggest point that I would like to reiterate is the safety of air travel. The customers who have travelled with us over the past 12 months trust that air travel is safe,” Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer, Air Vistara.
India’s daily Covid Spike is inching towards the 300,000 mark. With Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan entering into lockdown like situation, the coming weeks would be could be extremely difficult for airlines. Will the government help them recover?