India has allowed partial resumption of domestic flights but is treading with caution over international flights. The government has extended the ban on scheduled international passenger flights until December 31 from November 30.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has, however, said cargo flights and limited international flights under bilateral travel bubble arrangements will continue to operate. Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended since March 23 to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The new order followed the Home Ministry’s refusal to include international flights as part of its unlocking measures as Covid-19 cases rise around the world. However, India has entered into air bubble arrangements with 22 countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Maldives, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Tanzania, the UAE, the UK, Ukraine and the US.

The Indian government resumed domestic flights on May 25 with permission to operate at only 33% capacity on flights, which was later increased to 45%. Currently airlines are being allowed to operate at 60% and this cap will remain until February 24 next year.

Air travel has been showing signs of a gradual revival as strict health protocols have instilled confidence in people. Though air traffic is still only 50% of pre-Covid levels, there has been a steady rise since the resumption of domestic flights after a two-month flight ban.

The number of flyers has risen from 30,000 on May 25 to 200,000 on November 2. Ahead of Diwali – the festival of lights, India’s airports handled the highest passenger volume of this season on November 13 as people headed to tourist destinations and hometowns to meet friends and relatives. More than 2,25,000 passengers traveled on 1,903 flights from various airports on that day.

Airlines in India have been incurring huge losses in the past few quarters due to muted demand. In the recently concluded July-September quarter, India’s leading airline IndiGo incurred a record loss of 11.95 billion rupees (US$162 million), while its rival SpiceJet posted a loss of 1.05 billion rupees ($14.22 million).

According to International Air Transport Association, airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region, including India, are expected to report combined losses of $31.7 billion in 2020. The industry lobby group expects airlines to improve their performance in the second half of 2021, but passenger traffic may rebound to 2019-levels only by 2024.