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

The Indian government has extended the 60% cap on domestic flights until February 24. The Civil Aviation Ministry had planned to end it on November 24 but decided to extend it due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

India’s overall caseload has crossed 8.3 million and it is the second-worst-affected country in the world after the US. Though the daily average of fresh cases has fallen from its peak in September, experts point out that many parts of the country are currently experiencing the second wave of the pandemic.

The Civil Aviation Ministry had earlier said that it may consider increasing the number of flights to 75%, but has decided to maintain the status quo, Times of India reports.

India banned all flights on March 25 to contain the spread of Covid-19, but resumed them within the country from May 25. The government initially allowed only 33% of flights to operate, which was later increased to 45%.

Air travel has been showing signs of a gradual revival as the strict health protocols have instilled confidence in people. The number of flyers has risen from 30,000 on May 25 to 200,000 on November 2. The forthcoming holiday season is expected to increase the demand.

However, the load factor (aircraft occupancy) continues to range from 57% for Air India to 73% for SpiceJet, so many seats continue to be vacant during flights.

Meanwhile, a survey by full-service airline Vistara has indicated that the fear of exposure to Covid-19 during flights has receded among Indian flyers. The airline conducted a survey in June and later in the August-September period, and in the second survey, fewer respondents expressed fears of contracting the virus.

India has still not resumed regular international flights since suspending them on March 25 but 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 the government was negotiating with 13 other countries to establish air bubble arrangements. Those include Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand.

In addition, India has carried out more than 6,000 one-way repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission to bring stranded citizens back from other nations.

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