Air traffic contracted 66 percent in 2020-21, particularly in big cities although some small airports boomed in the tumultuous year, data from Airports Authority of India showed.
Domestic traffic fell 61.7 percent while international travel fell 84.8 percent, according to annual statistics issued by the state-run entity that manages 137 airports including 24 that have international flights.
Air traffic collapsed in the whole of April and most of May last year because of the strict countrywide lockdown. Air traffic has still not resumed normal operations.
Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) fell 53.7 percent, including a 50 percent decline in the domestic sector and 68.8 percent in international flights.
International traffic took a bigger hit with its share of total traffic falling to 8.8 percent in the last fiscal year from 19.6 percent.
Delhi retained its top position among Indian airports both in the domestic and international sectors although it saw a drop of 61 percent and 82 percent respectively despite many international flights being routed via the capital city, which was also the prime hub of the Vande Bharat Mission.
The ranking of airports in terms of international flights changed although Delhi and Mumbai retained the top two positions. Earlier, the two metropolises were followed by Chennai, Kochi and Bengaluru but now, after Delhi and Mumbai, it is Kochi, Calicut and Chennai. Bengaluru is out of the top five ranks and has slipped below Hyderabad.
But Bengaluru gained in domestic flights, which more than made up for its loss in international travel. It dethroned Mumbai to be the second busiest domestic airport in the country. The domestic airport ranking was also shuffled with Bengaluru and Kolkata gaining one place while Mumbai and Hyderabad losing one place each.
The biggest gainer was Patna which gained from migrants returning home by air in absence of rail service, and assembly elections. It did better than larger airports like Pune, Jaipur, Guwahati and Lucknow.
Patna also made it to the list of top 10 airports by combined traffic having pushed Pune out of the list. There have been changes in the ranking with Chennai losing its fifth spot to Kolkata, Kochi slipping two positions to the tenth spot and Goa gaining one to reach the eighth spot.
Airports which had just started international services like Guwahati and Indore and those which had very small base figures suffered the most with Nagpur, Guwahati, Bagdogra, Pune and Indore being worst affected on the international passenger numbers side.
Domestic traffic collapsed almost completely in some airports. Pondicherry, Bhatinda, Pithorgarh, Khajuraho and Shimla saw almost their entire traffic bow out due to flights being suspended.
Few airports boom
While there was doom and gloom all around, there were a few airports which did well and saw air traffic grow against the tide. While none of the major airports were anywhere close to recovery, traffic ballooned in some smaller ones. Kalaburagi, for example, grew by more than 300 perceint. Likewise, Pakyong which became operational again saw a 200 percent jump in passenger traffic. Hindon, near Delhi, saw a 62 percent spike in traffic over the previous year and so did Hissar which started scheduled services this year.
Belgaum and Jharsuguda reported a single-digit fall in traffic, which was down 6.6 percent and 5.8 percent respectively.
Many airports such as Pune, Ranchi, Tuticorin and Kolkata have been undergoing runway re-carpeting or repairs and additional construction activity to enhance capacity. This reduced operational hours and aircraft movement.
With the second wave of the pandemic raging and an end to the pandemic not in sight, the changes airport rankings could continue, but airports and airlines, reeling under the second wave of the pandemic, are more concerned about how soon normal operations would resume.