Domestic air travel in India: Starting from June 1, airlines would only be able to deploy up to 50% flights of pre-COVID levels on domestic routes. The direction from the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation came after it was observed that due to the second wave of the pandemic, the number of air passengers had reduced drastically over the past three months. Till now, airlines had been allowed to deploy flights at a capacity of 80% of pre-COVID levels, according to a report in IE. This marks the first reduction in operational capacity for airlines ever since the domestic flights were allowed to resume operations last year in May after a two-month national lockdown. Moreover, the lower limit of fare bands that the government had issued for domestic flights has also been increased.
How will the new rule impact operating flights?
The new rule means that airlines would only be allowed to operate 50% of the number of flights that they had operated in the Summer Schedule of 2020. Consequently, numerous flights would be cancelled starting Tuesday. For passengers who have booked flights on June 1 or after, if their flight is cancelled, they would either be shifted to an alternate flight by the airline, or given a refund or allowed a free change of flight for a later date. As per the report, most of the carriers are allowing passengers to change flights without charging the usual additional fee that is levied in normal course of business.
The new fare restrictions
Taking into account the increase in the cost of fuel, the ministry has now increased the lower limit of fare bands issues for domestic airlines. The fare bands are based on the duration of the flight. Accordingly, the flights having a duration of less than 40 minutes now have a revised lower limit of Rs 2,600, an increase of 13% over the previous lower limit of Rs 2,300. Moreover, flights that have a duration ranging between 40 and 60 minutes will see an increased lower limit of Rs 3,300 from Rs 2,900 previously.
Similarly, flights with a duration of 60 to 90 minutes will now have a revised lower limit of Rs 4,000, those operating for between 90-120 minutes a lower limit of Rs 4,700, for flights with a duration of 120 to 150 minutes Rs 6,100, for those between 150 to 180 minutes Rs 7,400 and for flights with a duration of 180 to 210 minutes, the revised lower limit stands at Rs 8,700.
The changes have been brought in by the ministry as the pandemic has been causing turbulence in the domestic aviation sector since March last year. Accordingly, once the nation-wide lockdown eased in phases last year and domestic flights were allowed to operate in May, the ministry took to monthly evaluations of passenger traffic situation so that the future course of action could be decided accordingly. As per the report, while February 28 saw about 3.13 lakh domestic passengers travelling across the country, by May 25, this number had drastically dropped to 39,000.