Hard landing for airports as Covid-19 adds to woes

In the second week of March, Ajay Awtaney (38), the editor of livefromalounge.com, an aviation and business travel website, took a full-to-capacity flight from Gorakhpur to Mumbai.

This was after the Indian government had started to raise the red flag on travel within and outside the country to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) infection. This had to be a one-off, thought Awtaney, and dug a little deeper. Anecdotally, he learnt that domestic flights on many routes were operating at 80%-90% occupancy that week.

The decline in numbers was to start a week later, when the threat of the pandemic became more real. The government announced travel restrictions effective March 18, and airline load factors started to significantly drop, with flights operating at 50%-and-below occupancy.

Many Indian companies had started instructing their employees to work from home (WFH) and had put a halt on non-essential travel. The glitzy terminals of India’s metro airports, which had been operating far beyond capacity, started resembling ghost towns. And at the time of writing this, not only has WFH become the current normal, foreign airlines have been forbidden from disembarking passengers in India, for a week starting March 22.

This is an unknown, uncertain phase for the global economy and aviation is one of the most affected by the nature of the disease, in that it spreads on contact and thus has led to restrictions on physical movement.

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