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

India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the aviation regulator, has drawn out the winter schedule as the airline industry tries to regroup amid low demand and rising coronavirus caseloads.

According to the winter schedule, effective from Sunday to March 27 next year, the airlines will operate 12,983 domestic flights a week from 95 airports in the country, the Press Trust of India reported. This is nearly 44% less than the number of flights that operated during last year’s winter schedule, which was 23,307 flights.

Indigo, the country’s largest airline by market share, has been allowed to operate 6,006 flights a week for this year’s winter schedule. SpiceJet and GoAir have been allotted 1,957 and 1,203 weekly flights respectively, while the Tata Group’s two joint ventures – AirAsia India and Vistara – will operate 885 and 852 flights respectively.

India had banned all flights after a countrywide lockdown was imposed on March 25 to fight Covid-19. Later, from May 25 onward, domestic flights resumed in a restricted manner with strict safety and hygiene protocols in place.

Initially, only 33% of the summer schedule was allowed to operate, but it was later scaled up to 60%.

Regular international flights continue to remain banned, but India has entered into bilateral “air bubble” arrangements with 18 countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, the UAE, Canada, Japan and others.

India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri recently said they were negotiating with 13 other countries to establish air bubble arrangements. Those include Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand, among others.

In addition, India has also carried out one-way repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission to bring stranded citizens back from other nations. The Civil Aviation Ministry claims that until October 16, 6,987 repatriation flights were operated by the state-owned Air India and it ferried more than 910,000 passengers.

India’s civil aviation sector continues to remain stressed and despite a lower number of flights, demand continues to be low. The average number of passengers per flight during September this year was 98, as against 133 in the same period last year, says ratings agency ICRA.

The passenger load factor for September this year was 63%, down from 85.5% last year. However, average daily departures have risen on a sequential basis to 1,311 in September, from 930 in August.

Domestic airlines including IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir, Air Asia India and Vistara have been reporting quarterly losses, laying off or furloughing employees to remain afloat. The government is also keen to sell off the state-owned Air India, but the Covid-19 stress on the global civil aviation sector has forced it to go slow with the sale.

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