An Air India plane on the runway in Mumbai. Photo: AFP / Himanshu Bhatt / NurPhoto

The Indian government has extended the ban on scheduled international commercial flights until February 28 as the country is now seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases, reportedly driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Civil aviation regulator the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said in a notification: “This restriction shall not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by the DGCA. However, flights under the Air Bubble agreement will not be affected.”

Last month, the civil aviation regulator extended the ban on scheduled international commercial flights until January 31, 2022. These flights were suspended on March 23, 2020, during the first wave of Covid-19.

India now has bilateral air bubble pacts with about 35 countries. They are temporary arrangements and reciprocal in nature. Airlines from both countries are allowed to operate commercial passenger flights.

Though domestic flights resumed on May 25, 2020, and the country’s civil aviation sector was showing signs of recovery, the current Omicron wave and high fuel prices have once again disrupted the nascent revival.

Market research firm Crisil said in its report that the airlines in India are likely to lose 200 billion rupees for the full fiscal year and it pushes back the industry’s recovery beyond fiscal 2023.

The report pointed out that in December 2021, the airlines had reached 86% of pre-Covid capacity, but the emergence of the third wave of Covid-19 has already caused domestic air traffic to fall 25% in the first week of January.

A similar trend was observed during the second wave in April-May 2021 when air traffic declined 25% and 66%, respectively, on a sequential basis.

Crisil based its report on three prominent airlines – Indigo, Spicejet and Air India – which together command 75% of the domestic traffic.

Aviation turbine fuel prices hit an all-time high of 83 rupees per liter in November 2021, rising from an average price of 44 rupees in fiscal 2021 and 63 in April-June 2021. While prices declined 6-8% in December 2021 because of a reduction in value-added tax by various states, they remain high after oil companies recently increased ATF prices by 4.2% to 79.3 rupees a liter in the national capital.