Airlines in India and Pakistan are slowly getting their groove back as COVID-19 cases subside

Stock India airport Indigo
Waiting for a chance to fly back into growth – Indian airline sources talk about July providing the decisive breakthrough. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Airlines in India and Pakistan are getting ready for their comeback journeys as COVID-19 infections slow down and demand for travel increases. But recovery will also depend on how quickly travel connections with key destinations are restored.

Average daily fliers in India rose to 83,000 in the week ended June 12 compared to 75,000 in the week before that, according to a report by ICICI Securities. The numbers grew 11 per cent week-over-week due to a 10.5 per cent growth in departures.

“We are hopeful that with the reducing trend in COVID-19 cases and the increased pace of vaccination, passenger confidence and airline traffic will gain further momentum by early July,” said Ronojoy Dutta, IndiGo’s CEO, during a post-earnings call.

“In terms of our short-term outlook, we started seeing the decline in airline travel in March – but this decline accelerated in April and May. While May started off with very weak traffic, we did see a modest turnaround beginning from the last week of May and this has continued into early June.”

“This shows that passenger confidence returns swiftly with the decline in COVID-19.”

Domestic services will lead recovery

February 2021 was IndiGo’s best post-COVID-19 month, with bookings on some days hitting 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. And now India’s largest domestic airline hopes to hit those highs again by the third quarter of this year.

“The near-term outlook for international continues to be bleak, and a meaningful recovery of international traffic will probably be pushed to the fourth quarter of FY22,” said Ronojoy Dutta, CEO.

Pakistan carriers cut fares

Pakistan is also seeing signs of a quiet recovery in its aviation market. Several airlines, including state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), have slashed flight ticket prices to stimulate demand within a smaller domestic market.

Airlines such as Airblue, PIA and Serene Air have dropped rates from 10,000 rupees (Dh233) to 6,000 rupees or even 4,000 rupees (Dh140/Dh93) on certain routes, said Fahad Masood, a Pakistan-based aviation analyst.

Pakistan airport
Pakistan airlines are pinning their recovery chances on domestic travel. Pakistan International Airlines, the flag carrier, has already made several changes in its strategy and be ready for an eventual recovery. Image Credit: Agency

“The confidence in the airlines for the traveling passenger is gaining momentum slowly, but surely,” said Masood. “The big reason that people are going back is the vaccination drive that has been pushed by the state or the government.”

He said that there were no talks about a potential bailout of the airlines and added that PIA was already driving towards ‘right-sizing’ the company and switching to more fuel-efficient aircraft. Privately-owned Serene Air has been “lean and mean”, said Masood, referring to its low-cost operations.