Minister of State for Civil Aviation (Independent Charge) Hardeep Singh Puri has said much of the pre-Covid domestic air passenger traffic could be restored by Diwali.
“The figure (of domestic passengers) yesterday was 98,800, so we have already reached 33% of pre-Covid numbers. We are increasing domestic passengers at the rate of 5,000 a week. With Mumbai hopefully having Covid numbers under control, the graph stable and coming down, I’m hoping that after the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, we will open up Mumbai more; Bengaluru, Kolkata will be a little less sporadic. We will be looking to touch the 50% mark before too long,” Puri said at an event of The Indian Express.
By Diwali (November 14), “we should be getting a bulk of our civil aviation traffic back in form”, the Minister said.
Operations are currently limited to 100 flights per day at Mumbai airport. Flights to Kolkata from Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Nagpur, and Ahmedabad have been restricted until August 31.
The Ministry has allowed airlines to operate only up to 45% of their pre-Covid capacities. This cap was 35% when flights resumed on May 25.
Puri said international flights will depend on the behaviour of the virus. “I cannot anticipate whether countries will allow people from India in, but we have gone ahead and made the best out of a very difficult situation, navigated through turbulence, and today we have air bubbles with the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany. I have announced 13 more,” he said.
The aviation sector is impacted badly by the outbreak of the pandemic and the lockdowns all over the world. Consultancy firm CAPA India has projected losses of $4-4.5 billion for India’s airline industry in 2020-21 (April-March).
However, Puri said that airlines could be saved by resuming operations as quickly as possible, and that the government was “navigating its way forward” on this.
“Different airlines are in different financial positions. There are some which were under strain even prior to Covid. There are others that are a little more comfortable because they are tied to bigger business establishments,” he said.
“My own firmly held view is that the saving of airlines, etc. will come by as quickly as possible resuming operations. We have taken many meetings, we are navigating our way forward.”
Puri also spoke about the controversy over the privatisation of Thiruvananthapuram airport. Responding to a question on how the Centre would proceed now that the state had refused to cooperate, the Minister said that if the Kerala government was against privatisation, it should not have participated in the bidding process.
“First they turned around and said they are against privatisation. If they’re against privatisation, they should not have participated in this. They are already running two privatised airports (Kochi and Kannur). Some people have suggested that there is an angle of the person who has won the bid. That also does not seem to be right because that economic entity is running a port 20 km from there. So, my short answer is that they have an experience in privatisation, they wanted to participate, they participated, they lost the bid and therefore, we have proceeded,” Puri said.
In the tender process for the privatisation of Thiruvananthapuram airport, Adani Enterprises outbid the Kerala state government entity KSIDC by 19.64%, which resulted in the state becoming ineligible to match the winning bid — an option that it could have exercised if its bid was within 10% of the winning bid.