Indian airlines are expected to incur a combined loss of about ₹1,700 crore within a week of complete shutdown of the transit amid the coronavirus outbreak.
In a bid to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 infection in the country and toeing the line of the Indian Railways, the Ministry of Civil Aviation on Monday (March 23) suspended all domestic flights from March 24 midnight until the end of this month.
Even as the cargo flights were exempted, the government instructed all passenger carriers to plan operations and land at their destination before 11:59 pm on Tuesday (March 24), leaving the airlines in a fix since all international flights had already been banned for a week.
“Domestic schedule commercial airlines shall cease operations from the mid night 23.59 IST hours on 24/3/2020. Restrictions shall not apply to solely cargo carrying flights,” the Press Information Bureau tweeted on Monday.
With the railways being halted, the airlines were the only mode of travel for people inside the country’s borders. However, the suspension of all flight operations for a week means the carriers will be losing an average amount of ₹1,772 crore.
India, which has 17 airlines connecting 649 domestic routes, annually conducts 10.54 lakh departures, carrying more than 14 crore passengers.
If numbers do the talking, the aviation industry on a yearly basis earns about ₹13,800 crore (per passenger per kilometre), which is a number way less than that of the Indian railways’ ₹51,067 crore.
According to data given by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, during the 2018-19 fiscal, the airlines hosted about 14 crore passengers, which means the weekly passenger-transit on an average was around 27 lakh.
In the current scenario of the novel coronavirus spreading its tentacles across the country, the real question is will this suspension help curb the transmission of COVID-19 infection?
To understand this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has introduced the concept of basis reproduction number (R0) in the context of epidemiology.
R0, which is used to measure the transmission potential of a disease, is the average number of secondary infections that can be produced by one single case of an infection.
As per the WHO, the R0 for coronavirus is 2.5 and calculating its spread via air travel could lead us to numbers larger than expected.
Considering that, if 1 per cent of the average daily passengers (14 lakh people) are coronavirus-affected, they can further infect about 49 lakh new people at the rate of 2.5 infections per person.
These gigantic numbers may bend to a larger number of cases which could be reported and hence, the suspension of airlines could result in the greater good of preventing community transmission. Also, it could effectively be an exercise in social distancing.
(With inputs from Akash Chandrashekhar Gulankar)