Spike In COVID-19 Cases, A Challenge For Aviation’s Recovery: ICRA

COVID-19 Spike UK India - qurantine Domestic air travel - Mumbai Airport - aviatorsbuzz
Representational photograph of passengers registering their details for the RT-PCR test.

Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, domestic passenger traffic for India in March 2021 has been estimated at ~77-78 lakh.

This implies a flat growth on a Y-o-Y basis on a low base of March 2020 (which had witnessed a Y-o-Y decline of 33.1% in domestic passenger traffic) as domestic travel was affected with effect from March 25, 2020.

Marginal Decline in Passenger Traffic

Passenger traffic in March 2021 witnessed a marginal sequential decline of ~1% over ~78.3 lakh domestic passenger traffic in February 2021. The airlines’ capacity for March 2021 was around 2% higher than their March 2020 capacity (~71,300 departures in March 2021, against 69,910 departures in March 2020). On a sequential basis, the number of departures in March 2021 were higher by ~11%.

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 March 2021, the average daily departures were ~2,300, higher than the average daily departures of 2,255 in March 2020 (effect of cessation of domestic travel for the last seven days), and marginally higher than ~2,296 in February 2021.”

The average number of passengers per flight during March 2021 was 109, against an average of 111 passengers per flight in March 2020. Thus, it is expected that the domestic aviation industry operated at a passenger load factor (PLF) of ~72% in March 2021, against 73.1% in March 2020, which was also impacted by the pandemic.

“The PLF for March 2021 was lower than the ~79% in February 2021, due to the increase in capacity deployment by ~11%. Overall, for FY2021 (i.e. from May 25, 2020 till March 31, 2021), domestic passenger traffic has been pegged at ~53.4 million, a Y-o-Y decline of ~62% (over FY2020), in line with ICRA’s estimates,” Ms. Shah noted.

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.

Spike Paid Domestic Aviation - Air India Express Vande Bharat Mission flight from Bahrain to Kozhikode - Aviatorsbuzz
File photo of passengers seated in an Air India Express Vande Bharat Mission flight from Bahrain to Kozhikode. Source: MEA

It further permitted increasing the capacity to 60%, with effect from September 02, 2020, to 70%, with effect from November 11, 2020; and further to 80%, with effect from December 03, 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 ~30 lakh for the period May 07, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

For March 2021, international passenger traffic for Indian carriers under VBM was recorded at ~4.5 lakh, a sequential increase of ~12%.

As for the aviation turbine fuel (ATF) prices, following the pandemic, crude oil prices declined materially – reaching a low of ~US$19 per 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$65 per 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.

It declined sequentially by 1.8% in April 2021. While until February 2021, the ATF prices were still lower on a Y-o-Y basis, the March 2021 prices were higher by 3.0% on a Y-o-Y basis, and April 2021 prices have been higher still by a whopping 59.8% on a Y-o-Y basis, attributed to the low base of April 2020, when the prices declined sequentially by 36.7% due to the impact of the pandemic and a steady spike in the number of cases.

Spike in Cases

With 1,03,558 fresh COVID cases, India saw the biggest-ever daily spike, taking the tally to 1,25,89,067. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 4 held a high-level meet to review the situation; central teams have been rushed to three states.

The cumulative number of anti-coronavirus vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed eight crore, the Union Health Ministry said on Monday. This is being seen as a way of arresting the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Eight states – Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala – account for 60 per cent of the cumulative vaccine doses given till morning.

Meanwhile, the ministry said Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have shown a spike in daily COVID-19 cases, accounting for 81.90 per cent of the 1,03,558 new cases reported in a span of 24 hours.

Maharashtra has reported the highest spike in new cases at 57,074 (55.11 per cent), followed by Chhattisgarh with 5,250 fresh cases and Karnataka 4,553 new cases, it said.

India’s total active caseload has reached 7,41,830 and now comprises 5.89 per cent of the country’s total infections, the data stated. A net increase of 50,233 cases has been recorded in the total active caseload in a span of 24 hours.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Punjab cumulatively account for 75.88 per cent of the total active cases in the country. Maharashtra alone accounts for nearly 58.23 per cent of the total active caseload of the country, the ministry said.

The Economic Times reported that airlines are bracing for a significant impact on air travel to and from Maharashtra after the state government imposed a partial lockdown to tackle a record spike in COVID-19 cases.

Senior executives at most carriers told the newspaper that bookings had dropped by up to 15% for the next one week. They also fear that tickets booked to and from Mumbai will be cancelled, forcing them to reschedule or combine flights in the wake of the number spike.

“Owing to the latest restrictions imposed in Maharashtra, we do expect some decline in demand for air travel to and from the state, as was the case when similar measures were introduced in the past due to rise in COVID cases. We are closely monitoring the market and shall remain nimble in adjusting capacity, if required,” said a spokesperson at Vistara.



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