Aircraft queue up on the tarmac before taking off at Mumbai airport: AFP
Aircraft queue up on the tarmac before taking off at Mumbai airport. File photo: AFP

The Indian government is considering allowing international flights to resume, but Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri refused to provide a timeline, saying it will depend on the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Domestic flights resumed on May 25 in a phased manner – only one-third of the scheduled summer flights are operating. During a webinar organized by airport promoter GMR, Puri said, “When we start international civil aviation, we need to have domestic aviation reach a certain point of maturity.”

Puri also said his ministry is in constant touch with states and a decision on re-starting international operations will be both bilateral and federal, with all stakeholders being taken into confidence. He said that once domestic flight operations reach 50-55% utilization and receiving states can absorb more incoming passengers, restarting international operations can be looked at.

Puri said the government will further ramp up Vande Bharat flights to ferry back Indians stuck in foreign countries due to flight bans. He said the government will fly planes to Gulf countries, Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of the world.

Meanwhile, airlines in the domestic circuit are flying at near capacity after a two-month ban. Leading airline IndiGo is operating at capacity with overbooking in many sectors, according to its latest passenger load data. GoAir, which resumed operations on June 1, has reported a 70-80% average passenger load factor across sectors. There has been a rise in travel from non-metros to metros as offices resume operations.

This surge has allayed airline companies’ fears that coronavirus infections will prompt people to skip flights. This surge in demand has also come as a respite to banks that have offered loans to airlines. Aviation experts believe travelers are becoming less fearful of flying as they learn to live with the virus.

IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta has said the airline aims to operate 70% of its pre-Covid-19 flights by the end of this year and felt that resuming international passenger services in July would be a “good idea.” He felt the government should now allow the airlines to operate 50% of their pre-Covid domestic flights.

Before the March 25 flight ban IndiGo was operating around 1,500 daily flights and around 20-25% were on international routes. After the flight ban was lifted on May 25, IndiGo started with around 240 flights a day and it now operates about 350 flights.

Dutta would like to see the fare limits imposed by the government for domestic flights lifted on August 24, as assured by the civil aviation minister. He said, “It is good to put a fare cap of some kind just to see all this works out until more data becomes available.” He said the demand from leisure travelers was strong, but he foresees less demand from corporate travelers as offices will turn to video conferencing to cut down on travel.