Business News/ Industry / Infrastructure/  Metros power revival of domestic air traffic

India’s top six airports are set to lead the domestic aviation sector’s comeback in 2023 after a long covid-19 lull. The combined number of flight seats offered by airlines for departures from these six airports this summer is set to grow 22% since the summer of 2019 (the last pre-pandemic summer season).

Twice a year, each airline has to submit its projected flight plan—routes, number of flights and flight timings, among other things—to the aviation regulator. Broadly, summer season runs from April to October, and winter from November to March. The 2023 summer plans released by airlines show that Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru are expecting strong capacity gains. (The other three are Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai. The six airports carried 58% of India’s domestic traffic in February 2022.)

Caution is in order while using 2019 for comparison, especially for Mumbai. One, Mumbai was the primary base for Jet Airways, and the airport’s 2019 figures reflect the airline spiralling towards a grounding in April 2019. Further, for all airports, part of the gains may already have materialized in 2022 itself.

Yet, if these plans materialize, domestic air traffic should finally cross pre-pandemic levels in 2023. It will also mark a return to the glory days of 2015-2018, when passenger traffic grew 17-23% a year. The average figure to beat is 12 million per month, for 2019. In the first two months of 2023, the count averaged 12.3 million. The summer flight plans of the 10 domestic airlines point to this monthly run rate rising further.

Airline Shifts

Among airlines, between the summer of 2019 and summer of 2023, the biggest gain in seat capacity from metros is seen in Vistara and IndiGo. While Vistara is doubling the combined number of seats it is offering from these six metros, IndiGo is projecting a 29% increase.

This relative growth also needs to be seen in the context of their overall seat share in the metros—IndiGo’s share is about 5.3 times that of Vistara.

Lower down the pecking order, much has changed during the pandemic. There are two airlines of significance whose operations from the metros have shrunk sizably: SpiceJet and Go First. Three airlines are no longer flying: Jet Airways, JetLite and TruJet. Lastly, Air India is now part of the Tata Group, to go with Vistara and AirAsia. Interestingly, in metro presence, Vistara nearly matches Air India in seat share in the Tata bouquet.

Metro Land

Movement between these six metros—for example, Mumbai-Delhi or Delhi-Bengaluru—alone accounts for a big chunk of domestic air traffic. Of all departures from these six metros, metro pairings accounted for about 42% of seat capacity in 2019. The rest were connections to non-metro airports. For 2023, too, the share of metro pairings is 42%. Only Delhi is significantly below this figure, underscoring its greater route diversification in the last few years. Delhi is connected to 69 domestic airports, against 58 for Mumbai and 64 for Bengaluru.

Of the 30 inter-metro pairings, as many as 24 have seen an increase in seat capacity between 2019 and 2023. The exceptions are both to and fro routes between Kolkata and Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad, and Chennai and Hyderabad. In 15 pairings, the increase in capacity exceeds 20%, led by to and fro routes between Mumbai and Chennai, and Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Beyond the Metros

There's significant movement on the metro-non metro pairings as well. Between 2019 and 2023, 15 new airports have been connected to these six metros, while eight airports no longer have direct connections. Of the remaining 79 airports that have a direct connection to these six metros, airlines have raised seat capacity beyond pre-pandemic levels in 60.


Resident in this is the story of Indian aviation’s expanding domestic footprint. There are some phenomenal growth stories such as Durgapur (640% growth in seat capacity from metros), Darbhanga (612%) and Rajkot (438%). These are small airports, and so their growth tends to get accentuated. But even among the 23 non-metro airports with a seat capacity of above 500,000 from metros in the summer of 2023, 17 are poised to see traffic exceed pre-pandemic levels. Airlines have much to hope for. is a database and search engine for public data.


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Updated: 19 Apr 2023, 01:01 AM IST
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