Parked planes at Mumbai airport, where traffic has fallen dramatically due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

As part of the easing of lockdown restrictions, the Indian government is allowing airlines to operate 60% of their normal schedule. The government suspended both domestic and international flights on March 25 to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Domestic passenger services resumed on May 25 and initially the airlines were allowed to operate only 33% of their normal schedule. On June 26, the Ministry of Civil Aviation increased it to 45%.

The government made the move after taking into account increasing demand as airline travel is widely seen as the safest mode of transport. In August the number of daily passenger flights crossed 1,000, and on September 1 the airlines operated 1,121 flights. Prior to the lockdown it was about 2,500 flights a day.

Leading airline IndiGo is operating 583 flights a day, while SpiceJet is operating 183 flights. Other airlines such as Vistara, AirAsia India, GoAir and the state-owned Air India are operating less than 100 flights a day.

The easing of lockdown measures by various state governments and the permission to increase the number of flights in Mumbai, the country’s second-busiest airport, have led to an uptick in airline travel.

Scheduled international passenger flights have remained grounded since March 23. However, some special international flights are operating under bilateral air bubble pacts signed with various countries including the US, Germany, France and the UK.

In addition, as part of the evacuation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission, about 126,000 Indians have returned from abroad since May 7. Based on demand, flights have been added for repatriating nationals from Armenia, Bangladesh, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Canada, China and Ukraine.

In July, the Center for Pacific Aviation, an advisory firm, revised upwards to US4 billion the likely loss India’s aviation sector will suffer in the fiscal year 2021, from the earlier $3.6 billion.

Meanwhile, India’s Covid-19 caseload has crossed 3.7 million, making it the thitd-worst-hit country in the world after the US and Brazil. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states account for half of the 7,85,996 active cases in the country.