Domestic Air Travel Continues To Accelerate In February 2021: ICRA

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The Indian aviation industry has witnessed a continued recovery in domestic passenger traffic in February 2021, ICRA said on Monday.

However, the pace of growth slowed down for the second month in February 2021, with a sequential growth (over January 2021) of ~1% to ~78 lakh passengers. The capacity deployment in February 2021 at ~71% (vis-a-vis February 2020) is a significant increase over the ~59% capacity deployed in November 2020 and ~67% in December 2020, very near the ~71% increase in January 2021. On a YoY basis, however, domestic passenger traffic declined by ~37%.

According to Kinjal Shah, Vice President, ICRA: “The number of flights departing has also gradually increased from 416 on Day 1 to 2,885 on Day 267 (February 14, 2021). For February 2021, the average daily departures were ~2,296, significantly lower than the average daily departures of 3,137 in February 2020, though better than ~2,190 in January 2021.”

Domestic Passengers per Flight Was 121

Ms. Shah informed that the average number of passengers per flight during February 2021 was 121, against an average of 136 passengers per flight in February 2020. Thus, it is expected that the domestic aviation industry operated at a passenger load factor (PLF) of ~78% in February 2021, against 87.7% in February 2020, that too on a low capacity.

“The PLF for February 2021 was higher than the ~73% in January 2021, due to the decline in capacity deployment by ~5%. Overall, from May 25, 2020 till February 28, 2021, domestic passenger traffic has been pegged at ~45.6 million,” she said. 

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) permitted increasing the capacity to 45%, with effect from June 27, 2020; post the initial recommencement of operations of the scheduled domestic flights, with effect from May 25, 2020 to a limited extent i.e. a maximum 1/3rd of their respective approved capacity of the Summer Schedule 2020.

It further permitted increasing the capacity to 60%, with effect from September 2, 2020 to 70%, with effect from November 11, 2020 and further to 80%, with effect from December 3, 2020.

While the scheduled international operations are yet to start, the MoCA has permitted international operations under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) and Air Transport Bubbles (ATB). Under the VBM for evacuation of Indian citizens from foreign countries, which started from May 7, 2020, the international passenger traffic (inbound and outbound) for Indian carriers has been ~25 lakh for the period May 7, 2020 to February 28, 2021. For February 2021, international passenger traffic for Indian carriers under VBM was recorded at ~3.9 lakh, a sequential decline of ~5%.

Paid Domestic Aviation - Air India Express Vande Bharat Mission flight from Bahrain to Kozhikode - Aviatorsbuzz
Passengers seated in an Air India Express Vande Bharat Mission flight from Bahrain to Kozhikode. Source: MEA

As for the aviation turbine fuel (ATF) prices, following the pandemic, crude oil prices declined materially – reaching a low of ~US$19/ barrel in April 2020, thus leading to a decline in ATF prices. However, the crude oil prices have increased gradually since then, and currently ranges at around US$69/ barrel. Consequently, the ATF prices increased sequentially by 24.1% in July 2020 and by 4.2% in August 2020. 

However, it declined sequentially by 3.4% in September 2020 and by 5.6% in October 2020, before increasing by 4.6% in November 2020, by 9.1% in December 2020, by 10.2% in January 2021, by 5.4% in February 2021, and by 10.4% in March 2021. While until February 2021, the ATF prices were still lower on a YoY basis, the March 2021 prices are higher by 3.0% on a YoY basis.

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