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Home >News >India >'To term it recovery, air travel demand needs to hit 50% of pre-COVID level for 3-6 months'

Any uptick in air passenger volumes for just one month cannot be termed as "recovery" unless the demand touches 50-60 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 levels consistently for 3-6 months, according to a senior official of a private airport operator.

Moreover, the convergence of arrival and departure load factors is also a key factor in determining the recovery, as it reflects a reasonable stability in the market and allows airline to rebuild the network as well, said Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) Chief Development and Strategy Officer Satyaki Raghunath .

The Bengaluru airport, which used to handle around one lakh passengers a day including 15,000-17,000 international passengers, averaged around 12,800 domestic passengers a day till the third week of June, he said.

Significantly, when India resumed regular domestic air services on May 25 last year after a two-month hiatus in the wake of a nationwide lockdown announced in late-March, the Bengaluru airport had started off with around 10,000 passengers a day.

It subsequently rose to 35,000 passengers a day by the time the first wave of the pandemic subsided around October last year.

As the government allowed the airlines to increase the capacity in a graded manner from about 35 per cent in May to 80 per cent in December, the daily domestic passenger count at the Bengaluru airport touched 50,000 by February this year, Raghunath said.

"This was the time when the second wave started; and with that, the passenger number also started dropping. In March, domestic passenger traffic declined to 45,000 and a further 10,000 in April to 35,000.

"It bottomed out in May at about 12,000. So, we went back to almost the same level we started out in on May 25, 2020," Raghunath told PTI.

In the first week of June, the airport handled 12,700 passengers, which rose to 14,000 in the second week and to around 17,000 in the third week, averaging around 12,800, as the states started phasing out restrictions one after another, he said.

The government allowed airlines to operate at 50 per cent of their total capacity from June after air travel demand hit rock-bottom in May due to the second wave of the pandemic.

"If there is a drop in passenger demand after a month of growth, it is not recovery. I would say, until we have 3-6 months of consistent numbers averaging over 50-60 per cent of pre-COVID-19 level, it is not recovery. We are not even close to recovery from Bengaluru airport perspective," said Raghunath.

He said there was a huge diversion in arrival and departure load factors between May (when domestic travel restarted) and October last year. Initially, when the lockdown changed, there were a lot of people leaving Bengaluru to see their friends and families, Raghunath added.

"So, there was a massive difference between arrival and departure load factors. The only time you can say there is a recovery is when there is some convergence in arrival and departures.

"That means the market is reasonably stable and the airlines can rebuild their network," he said.

Such a trend was noticed to some extent between October last year and February, Raghunath said adding that even in the past two months, there was a huge difference in the load factors on arriving and departing flights.

He said the only people who travel today are the ones who got stuck somewhere during the lockdown.

He added that there was a bit of business travel during January-February this year; but the moment the second wave happened, it was gone.

"So, when you talk about recovery, pent-up, etc, today, all the travel is emergency travel and it may take another 3-6 months to converge them again," he said.

The recovery in demand would depend on factors such as how fast COVID-19 cases are controlled, pace of vaccination, and not getting a third wave, he said.

Business travel will take significantly longer time to rebound even as there will be some leisure travel, Raghunath said.

He added, "It has been a very ugly first quarter (of FY21) for us at the Bengaluru airport. This year will be quite dismal, and we will probably be having this sort of stop- start, what we have seen over the last two months."

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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