How the pandemic put Tier-II cities on busy aviation map
Till July this year, 64% of the passengers who passed through Mumbai airport were those travelling to or returning from a non-metro on a direct flight, said a Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) spokesperson. After the lull in domestic travel brought on by the Covid-19 second wave in summer, the non-metro routes are back this month with the launch of four weekly direct flights from Mumbai to Bareilly and the relaunch of 18 weekly direct flights to Tier-IIs such as Ajmer, Porbandar, Tirupati and Vishakhapatnam. Last mon- th, Gwalior had joined Mumbai airport’s direct flight list.
“Between January and July, Mumbai airport handled over 75 lakh domestic passengers, of whom over 48 lakh were flying to or from about 60 non-metros,” said a Mumbai International Airport ltd (MIAL) spokesperson. These included leisure travellers and passengers flying between home and their work city as is evident from the top three non-metro destinations out of Mumbai during this period — Goa, Ahmedabad and Varanasi — that is. But metro airports were the traffic kingpins with Delhi and Bengaluru among the overall top three domestic destinations out of Mumbai.
Kapil Kaul of Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, an aviation consultancy firm said, “Non-metro to metro routes are increasingly seeing more flight deployment during COVID. Prior to Covid, flight operations from Mumbai, especially to non-metros were significantly constrained due to capacity shortage.”
The spike in demand for flights to non-metros began last year after domestic flights were restarted on May 25 following a two-month ban. In the new normal, business travel was negligible, metro-to-metro travel was down as flights packed migrants fleeing cities for their homes in tier-IIs realigned domestic air traffic pattern. According to Airports Authority of India statistics, the Tier-II destinations recovered faster, they registered a lower drop in passenger traffic as compared to the metros by the end of last fiscal. For instance, while Mumbai airport saw a 71% drop in passenger traffic in 2020-21 as compared to the previous year, the corresponding drop was 57% for Lucknow, 51% for Ranchi and Raipur, 48% for Varanasi, 40% for Patna, 25% for Gorakhpur, 13% for Pathankot, and so on.
Kaul said, “We will see mo- re operations to non-metros as Mumbai airport now has capacity available and airlines like IndiGo are keen to broaden their network.” Prior to Covid, the airport’s lone runway handled about 950 flights in 24 hours. Today, it handles an average of 300 flights, less than a third of its capacity.
A low-cost airline official said, “Regional connectivity scheme never really took off in Mumbai due to airport slot constraints. People bound for non-metros had to transit via Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata etc with no direct flights to smaller cities. But Covid has cha- nged that, for now at least.”
August 17, 2021, 2:33 am