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Last Updated : Mar 23, 2020 07:07 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Exclusive | India’s airlines ground around 1 in every 2 planes

The grounding is led by national carrier Air India which has two-thirds of its fleet grounded while GoAir has 60 percent of its fleet grounded and Vistara has over half its planes down.

Planes parked at IGI airport in New Delhi
Planes parked at IGI airport in New Delhi

The last couple of weeks have seen exponential growth of COVID-19 outbreak across the world. While India is trying its best to control the outbreak by putting restrictions, Indian airlines were one of the last amongst major countries to get hit.

Many continue to be surprised as most airlines are still operating a lot of flights across the country even when country after country and flight after flight were barred progressively over the last few weeks by the Indian government. Air India and IndiGo had the densest network in the region and with either of the countries banning flights, all airlines had to slowly start withdrawing services from the European Union, Kuwait, Qatar, Malaysia and slowly the entire Middle East. On March 19, the government came up with a directive to stop all international flights landing in India starting March 22. As of today, the last of international flights have departed and even the passengers connecting to other cities from international gateways like Delhi or Mumbai are not available anymore.

Some of the biggest airlines in the world – Delta, American Airlines and United — have resorted to unprecedented cuts. Singapore Airlines has announced that it would cut up to 96 percent of its capacity and Gulf major Emirates announced a total shutdown effective March 25, only to move it to limited operations a few hours after announcement.

Close

There are airlines in the world which have completely ceased operations. They include Austrian, Swiss, LOT Polish, Air Baltic and more. Another lot of airlines have resorted to domestic flights only as entry barriers come up across countries. While Vistara announced it is adjusting capacity, IndiGo announced a reduction of 25 percent of its domestic capacity starting March 23.

Anecdotal evidence from domestic flights indicates that there have been cases of full flights as well as nearly empty flights flying across the country. The Summer Schedule comes into effect from March 29, 2020 and the planned increases by airlines are unlikely to take to the skies as airlines battle the current scenario and remain worried to stay afloat.

Groundings have begun

As images of aircraft parked on the runway at New Delhi International airport starting doing the rounds, it was evident that large scale groundings have begun.

A Network Thoughts analysis based on data obtained from FlightRadar24 – a flight-tracking website — shows that 40 percent of the country’s fleet is now grounded. The grounding is led by national carrier Air India which has two-thirds of its fleet grounded, over 80 aircraft. GoAir – the Mumbai-based Low Cost Carrier has 60 percent of its fleet grounded. Over 30 of its fleet of 54 aircraft were on ground. Vistara – the TATA-SIA joint venture has over 20 aircraft grounded out of its fleet of 41 planes.

IndiGo and AirAsia India continue to operate a larger proportion of its fleet. While IndiGo seems to have grounded nearly 80 aircraft, it translates into just 30 percent of its fleet. AirAsia India has grounded just 20 percent of its fleet. Spicejet has grounded 40 percent of its fleet and this includes the aircraft which were plying for Spicejet on wet lease.

Currently, all airlines put together have 660+ commercial aircraft in India and 275 were grounded as of this morning with numbers likely to go up as the week progresses. Groundings don’t come cheap. Most of the aircraft are currently parked at Delhi and Mumbai with a few others at Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kolkata. While Air India has its own hanger and maintenance facilities and any aircraft parked there won’t have to pay the airport for long term parking, the story is not same for others who will have to pay the parking charges for grounded planes. It would be interesting to see if government and airport operators find ways to give relief to airlines and also airports for the loss of revenue and additional charges that the airlines will have to pay.

Need for better communication

A few airlines in the world have come out in open and announced the cancellations by region and/or flight wise. However, none of the Indian airlines has published a truncated schedule. The airlines could have learnt a lot from the global peers to come up with communication in times when passengers are scrambling to reschedule the tickets or cancel them and trying to reach the call centres which are operating at reduced strength due to the outbreak of coronavirus and subsequent restrictions in place

What next?

It is likely that two or three airlines could move to a complete shutdown for a temporary period as more and more states enforce lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. This would help conserve the much-needed cash until the government comes out with a package to bail out airlines and other affected industries.

A complete halt would mean no uplift of fuel, no route navigation and landing charges but still means that the airlines have to pay lessor and airports for parking. In the next couple of days, more and more aircraft will be grounded and a bare minimum skeletal schedule will be in operation till we overcome the current crisis. The situation is unprecedented and so should be the measures.

Ameya Joshi runs the aviation analysis website Network Thoughts. Ameya writes a lot on aviation.

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First Published on Mar 23, 2020 01:33 pm
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