Before Coronavirus Stalled Air Travel, Traffic Jumped To Three-Month High
Passengers wear masks to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic at Chennai airport on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Several flights have been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: PTI)

Before Coronavirus Stalled Air Travel, Traffic Jumped To Three-Month High

Air passenger traffic surged in February, just a month before travel restrictions kicked in to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of passengers flying Indian airlines rose at 9 percent year-on-year in February, the fastest pace in three months, according to data compiled from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. Nearly 1.23 crore passengers took to the skies during the month.

The surge in traffic came as airlines offered discounts on fares to boost demand in the seasonally weak month.

Passenger growth in March, however, will suffer as the world’s fastest growing aviation market placed curbs on travel amid mounting coronavirus cases. India has also banned airlines from boarding passengers from member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the U.K. from March 18.

InterGlobe Aviation Ltd., the operator of the nation’s largest market, has issued a profit warning guiding that its earnings for the ongoing quarter will be significantly impacted due to coronavirus-led disruption. Daily bookings are down 15-20 percent week-on-week over the past few days, IndiGo’s parent had told the bourses last week. January and February saw a modest impact from coronavirus as planes were redeployed in other markets, it said.

Wadia Group-controlled carrier, GoAir, has asked a section of its employees to go on short-term leave without pay to cope with low travel demand. SpiceJet Ltd., in a reply to BloombergQuint’s query, however, said it has not asked any employees to work from home or go on short-term leave without pay.

Here’s how major Indian airlines fared in February, in terms of passenger traffic:

  • IndiGo’s air passenger growth stood at 20.3 percent—the highest in three months
  • SpiceJet’s air passenger traffic grew at 21.4 percent—the slowest pace in 10 months
  • GoAir’s air passenger growth stood at 19.9 percent—the highest in three months
  • Air passenger growth of Vistara jumped to the highest in 43 months at 108.5 percent
  • Air India’s passenger growth stood at 1.9 percent—the highest in three months
  • AirAsia’s passenger traffic rose at its fastest pace in 19 months at 53.9 percent

Passenger load factor—a measure of capacity utilisation or the percentage of seats filled—fell for all major airlines. Yet, SpiceJet managed to report passenger load factor at more than 90 percent for 58 straight months.

...and passenger load factor:

  • IndiGo’s passenger load factor fell 10 basis points to 88.3 percent
  • GoAir’s passenger load factor declined 210 basis points to 90.5 percent
  • Seat occupancy of SpiceJet dropped 100 basis points at 93 percent
  • AirAsia’s passenger load factor fell 820 basis points to 83.6 percent
  • Vistara’s passenger load factor decreased 110 basis points to 88 percent
  • Air India’s passenger load factor fell 140 basis points to 81.9 percent

Also Read: Aviation Poised for Worst Year on Record Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

SpiceJet was the only airline to witness a decline in market share in February compared to the preceding month. Its market share fell 130 basis points—the most in more than five years.

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