The number of domestic flights in India is now at 56 per cent of pre-Covid levels as the country continues its phased reopening, according to an update on Monday from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, DGCA.
The winter schedule for domestic aviation, which began on Sunday and will run until 21 March 2020 year, permits a total of 12,983 flights from 95 airports, the aviation regulator said.
Scheduled international services in and out of India remain suspended until the end of the month so Indian airlines and in particular its low-cost carriers will be relying on domestic business in their recoveries.
According to the Minister for Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri, domestic flights connecting bigger cities to smaller towns was a pre-requisite to the resumption of overseas flights. This is because many passengers arriving at international airports need connections to reach their final destinations on the domestic route.
When air travel was resumed in India on 25 May after a two-month gap, caused by a total lockdown, the DGCA permitted airlines to operate 33 per cent of their pre-Covid-19 number of flights on the domestic sector.
The DGCA has been allowing overseas repatriation flights of Indian citizens and foreign nationals in both directions. Some special international flights sanctioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs have also been allowed.
Puri said the future of international travel will depend on the availability of a vaccine against coronavirus.
"There is no country which has completely opened its borders for all,” he said. “Everything depends on the availability of a vaccine as countries will feel more confident once a vaccine is there."
Several foreign airlines have expressed interest in resuming flights to India. Demand for international flights is expected to rise after the Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday permitted foreign nationals to visit India for any purpose, except tourism. Overseas Indian citizens can also now travel to India.
Puri said: "There are three issues to consider before resuming regular international flights. One, resuming domestic connectivity between bigger cities and smaller towns. Second, the nature of the virus on which I can’t comment and the third is international restrictions. Every country wants their people to return, but for others, there are plenty of restrictions."