Indian airlines are pushing ahead with their bid for additional domestic capacity, exceeding pre-pandemic figures for a sustained period now. India first crossed 2019 levels in early January but was forced to scale back flights due to the COVID surge. However, this quarter (April-June), carriers have officially exceeded pre-pandemic capacity by a healthy margin, showing no signs of stopping.
No more restrictions
It’s finally happened, domestic airlines have been able to break the cycle of capacity drops and exceed 2019 COVID levels. Data from RadarBox.com shows that since March 5th, India’s airlines have racked up over 2,500 flights every day and are now approaching 2,800 rotations.
This quarter of success has been made possible by three factors, high vaccination rates, low COVID levels, and no government interference. While India is yet to vaccinate children, the current program has allowed travelers to start flying again with little to no fear, leaving airports bustling again. Another major factor has been low COVID cases, with no new variants causing a surge and hurting traffic.
Airlines have been waiting for the opportunity to deploy their entire capacity since late 2021. Photo: Getty Images
However, critically, the government’s decision to drop its “temporary” restrictions on capacity has allowed the competitive market to emerge once more. While fare caps remain in place, airlines have been deploying capacity and frequencies to existing routes to shore up revenues and fly desperate holidaymakers and business travelers.
Stable, for now
It’s important to note that nothing is truly stable in the COVID era. While the three-month spell is the longest airlines have seen at pre-COVID levels, another variant could easily send traffic plummeting. However, as we saw with Omicron in January, the rebound time has shortened significantly, so airlines should be ready with capacity within weeks of cases falling.
One market that still lags behind is international flights. In 2019, India saw nearly 1,100 international flights daily, hitting a peak of 1,233 in December of that year. Two years later, this week, carriers saw 928 daily foreign flights, down 15% from pre-pandemic levels.
The A380 is back in India, with more airlines making a comeback on a weekly basis. Photo: Emirates
The good news is that numbers have accelerated rapidly since India allowed regular international flights to resume in late March. Traffic is already up 11% and growing week-on-week, raising ambitions that by the end of the year we will be back at 2019 levels. Notably, not all foreign carriers have returned due to their home restrictions, but Indian and Middle Eastern airlines have been more than willing to add capacity in response.
With COVID not the only topic of conversation, Indian carriers are tackling the myriad of problems they face. Fuel prices remain the biggest headache, with IndiGo reporting costs up by over 65% year-on-year in the Q4 fiscal. Add to this new competitors in the next quarter and the airline industry is looking oddly normal, but after a bruising two years, that will require existing players to carefully lay out their future.
What do you think about India’s current recovery? Let us know in the comments!
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