Airports in India's smaller cities and towns continue to defy the larger industry trend of a slow recovery, with more joining the list of those who now have surpassed pre-COVID-19 numbers.
From 13 airports in December, the list has now become longer with the addition of Tirupati in January. The 14 airports reported higher footfalls in the first month of the year, as compared to the corresponding period a year ago.
On the other hand, none of the airports in India's metros are close to achieving the feat.
Who are on the top
Tezpur in Assam saw the highest increase in passenger traffic, with a jump of 210 percent in January 2021. Kalaburagi in Karnataka reported the second-highest increase at 72.5 percent.
The small city, which is also known as Gulbarga, has been one of the successful case studies for regional connectivity. Its airport was launched in November 2019, and now has two airlines operating from it - Star Air and Alliance Air.
To know more about Kalaburagi's rise, read: The anatomy of a small airport: Kalaburagi airport is among India's fastest growing
Some of the other airports that have seen high growth include Hindon, Nasik and Jharsguda.
The trend in these smaller cities is in stark contrast to the overall numbers. In January, overall passenger traffic recovery slowed down to 5.5 percent, from December. This is the slowest growth in monthly traffic since domestic flights resumed in May, after the lockdown in March.
Airlines continue to operate under a capacity cap of 80 percent. At the same time many of them, including IndiGo, Spicejet and regional ones like Star Air, are slowly ramping up capacity to the maximum limit.
That is one reason why in terms of aircraft movement, more airports make it to the list. Like in December, in January too, 21 airports saw more aircraft movement, measured in landings and take-offs, than in pre-COVID-19 times.
Kalaburagi, Cuddapah, Dimapur and Gorakhpur were some of the airports that saw the highest growth in aircraft movement.
While the growth, both in traffic and aircraft movement, is encouraging for the industry, the next two months would be crucial. "There is a recent surge in infection numbers in some of the cities. One needs to see how this impacts travel sentiment. If the vaccination drive scales up considerably, that should help," said a senior executive from the industry.