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Domestic air passenger traffic stayed on the recovery path in December, growing 12% sequentially, though it marked a 45% decline from a year earlier due to covid-induced curbs, rating agency Icra said on Monday.

While airlines deployed about 67% of their capacity last month, compared to a year earlier, it was a sharp rise from about 59% in November, Icra said in a report.

Indian carriers had suspended operations between March and May last year, after the government imposed strict travel restrictions to curb the spread of covid-19. The suspension was lifted in late May though airlines were permitted to operate with limited capacity, which was eased gradually. However, travel appetite remains muted due to the pandemic. Airlines are currently allowed to sell seats up to 80% of their pre-covid capacity on domestic flights.

“For December 2020, the average daily departures were about 2,048, significantly lower than the average daily departures of 3,062 in December 2019, though better than about 1,806 in November 2020," said Kinjal Shah, vice president, Icra.

“The average number of passengers per flight during December was 112, against an average of 137 passengers per flight in December 2019. Thus, it is expected that the domestic aviation industry operated at a passenger load factor (PLF) of about 72% in December 2020, against 87.9% in December 2019, that too on a low capacity," Shah said, adding that the PLF for December was lower than 75% in November because of the increase in capacity deployment by about 17%.

PLF, or passenger load factor, measures the capacity utilization of transport services, including airlines.

For December, the number of international passenger traffic was 301,000, declining 87% from the year-ago, Icra said. Normal flights on international routes remain suspended at least till 31 January. However, India currently has air bubble arrangements with several nations, which allow movement between the countries with certain restrictions.

International repatriation flights and cargo-only operations continue to be allowed.

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