Last year, airline flights stayed suspended till May 25 and then passenger traffic saw a slow but steady rise till February this year. With the second Covid wave hitting in April, though, passenger traffic has again troughed—once again in May, the most important month in the airline calendar.
Conventionally, May is about peak fares, long airport queues and packed aircraft cabins. It was the month schools closed for summer vacations and India travelled while airlines raked in profit to last the lean season that monsoon brought in.
Pre-pandemic, the Mumbai airport handled about 1.4 lakh passengers per day (January 2020), said a source. “For the month of January, Mumbai airport had registered a passenger traffic of 17.3 lakh, which crawled up to 17.8 lakh in February, then dropped to 15.8 lakh in March,” according to Directorate General of Civil Aviation data. The number dropped to 10.4 lakh in April, the source added. This May, India’s airports are largely deserted. According to the UK’s aviation data firm OAG, Indian airlines removed 2.4 million seats this month as compared to last. “In South Asia, seats have fallen by 15.1% this month as a result of the significant increase in Covid cases in India,’’ said OAG.
According to the source, between January and April this year, about 61 lakh passengers travelled to/from the Mumbai airport, which included about 54 lakh domestic passengers.
“The passenger traffic was on a steady rise and in March we moved domestic operations to terminal 1 at Vile Parle in preparation for the coming summer rush. The state government had capped flight movement at the Mumbai airport to 300 flights per day and so back then that seemed to be a concern,” said an official from a low-cost carrier. Today, that is no longer a hurdle. The Mumbai airport used to handle over 980 flights on an average in a day, but currently handles an average of about 200 flights per day, said an air traffic control source.
Air fares are generally a sure indicator of the drop in passenger traffic.
Since they have been capped by the civil aviation ministry though, the fares have stayed in the median range with a Mumbai-Delhi return ticket for travel next week starting at about INR 8,800.