NEW DELHI: Covid cast its long shadow on international air travel much before scheduled flights to and from India were suspended on March 22. This January-March saw 1.2 crore fly in and out of India — down almost a quarter from 1.6 crore in the same period of pre-pandemic 2019.
While the number of people flying out of India fell from 78.4 lakh in January-March 2019 to 60 lakh; 65 lakh flew in here as opposed to 85.5 lakh in the first quarter last year, according to DGCA data.
The aviation industry now expects travel to resume to pre-pandemic levels only by 2024-25. Though international flights were suspended on March 25, travel restrictions globally had begun to kick in from over a month earlier. India had seen its first evacuation flight in January-end when Air India operated two jumbo jets to fly back its citizens from Wuhan — the origin city of the virus.
While international scheduled flights remain suspended, travel to and from India is happening under air bubbles formed with some countries. In addition, Vande Bharat Mission flights also operate to bring back Indians home as also fly out from here to countries that allow the same.
“Domestic travel is slowly reviving and we hope the trend continues even after the festive season gets over in a few days. It is international travel that remains uncertain. The aviation industry had suggested twin-testing — one before boarding for India and second on arrival here — as the way forward to the aviation and health ministries. But international travel depends on several factors; rules of the originating and destination countries and is not to be decided by one country (India) alone,” said a senior official of a metro airport.
Airlines are keeping their fingers crossed for domestic travel also. “Since people now book closer to date of travel, there are no real advance trends to suggest how the coming Christmas season will look like. After the first fortnight of January, travel anyways enters the annual lean season to pick up from March-end onwards for summer break,” said an airline official.
Scheduled domestic flights were suspended on March 25 for two months. The first day of resumption of these flights (May 25) saw 30,000 domestic passengers and this number rose to 2.2 lakh on Monday (November 16). Airlines are keenly watching if the trend of increasing traffic continues once this year’s festive season gets over.