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Monday , 29 November 2021

The Influence of Covid-19 on Indian Aviation

Saurav Bhoya

Though the suspension of air traffic operations was effective in reducing global mobility during the global pandemic caused due to Covid, it had significant socio-economic consequences (both short and long term) for the various air transport companies. Overall, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) approximated that the aviation industry would have lost up to USD 371 billion in gross passenger operating revenues due to a reduction of 2,699 million passengers (-60 percent) from the previous year’s scheduled passenger traffic].
This write-up is based on the study done by Velmurugan S, Chief Scientist and Champion (Indo-HCM), Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, CSIR – CRRI and Saurav Bhoya, Post Graduate Student, Faculty of Technology and Engineering, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara. Data was gathered using an online questionnaire survey as well as historical air traffic data from April 2015 to December 2020.

Velmurugan S

Due to the pandemic scenario, Indian domestic airlines reported a 56 % decline in the number of passengers flown in the year 2020 by reporting a figure of 62.8 million, as compared to 143.7 million flown during the same period previously in the year 2019. Domestic airlines have done a total of 5, 42,640 departures in the year 2020, as against 10,58,920 departures in the year 2019, resulting in a 48.7 % reduction in a year-on-year comparison. The average number of passengers per flight i.e., load factor during year-2020 was 74.3 % (in percentage), as against an average of 87.2 % passengers per the flight year 2019. Similarly, the cargo carried in the year 2020, freight traffic was 4,52,658.8 tonnes as against 7,15,537.3 tonnes in the year 2019 and thus registering a reduction of 36.7% over the year-ago period.

Data and Methodology

Two types of data were used in this study: Firstly, qualitative research from a user perception survey conducted amongst the air travellers (with the focus on frequent air travellers) between November 2020 to February 2021, and secondly secondary source data gathered for three major airports of the country namely, Ahmedabad, Delhi, and Varanasi during March 2015 to December 2020. The user perception survey was done using Google Forms and sent out via email and various online platforms such as WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram.

The collected responses have also been subjected to descriptive and quantitative comparative analyses. Unless otherwise stated, this study relied heavily on non-parametric tests. The purpose of this study is to look at respondents’ observations of travel behavior in the lead up to and during Covid. Cohen’s kappa, Wilcoxon signed-rank, and Mann-Whitney U tests are among the tests used in these studies. Cohen’s kappa is a statistic that measures how well two raters agree in a pre-Covid and post-Covid scenario. It divides the number of items into categories that seem to be mutually exclusive.

The Wilcoxon signed rank test is a non-parametric test that can be used to see if the two dependent samples collected from respondents before and after Covid have the same distribution. This test is used when the distribution of the difference between two sample means cannot be assumed to be normal. When the dependent variables are nominal or continuous but not commonly distributed, the Mann-Whitney U test is used to compare the differences between two independent variables. The Mann-Whitney U test allows you to reach a variety of conclusions about your knowledge based on your distribution assumptions. The information for the questionnaire form from respondents spread across the country. Out of the total number of 720 respondents, 76 % were male and the remaining 24% were female. The age group 15 to 30 received the most responses constituting 34 % whereas the age group over 65 received the least accounting for about 4 %.

Impact on domestic trips

As one might expect, the number of trips decreased dramatically during the pandemic. Due to the majority of respondents (57 %) did not travel during the pandemic period, as shown. The majority of respondents (26 %) plan to take only one or two trips during the pandemic. In the case of respondents who made more than 10 trips in the pre-Covid scenario, i.e. (11-15, 16-20, and more than 20 trips), approximately 22 % of the overall respondents is expected to reduce to only 2.2% in the post-Covid time, a huge reduction of approximately 90 %.

Number of domestic trips made in pre and post Covid pandemic.

The number of domestic trips made in pre and post Covid (Z = −19.067, p < 0.05) was statistically significant, according to Wilcoxon’s signed ranks test which signified the quantum of domestic travel post pandemic is less. Furthermore, the data collected revealed a statistically significant difference in the number of trips taken by males and females prior to and after Covid. Before the pandemic, a significant proportion of this male population took more domestic trips, which has now drastically decreased.

Mode preference for journey up to 500 kilometers

In the pre-Covid period, the majority of respondents preferred either rail (43 %) or air (24 %) as the primary mode for undertaking journey up to 500Kms. During Covid, there was a significant drop with only 7 % of respondents using rail / air as their primary mode of interurban travel. On the other hand, the usage of private vehicle increased dramatically from 28 % prior to Covid to 65 % during Covid.

Mode preference for journey up to 500 Kms in pre and post Covid

In the pre and post Covid pandemic scenarios, again the Wilcoxon signed ranks test revealed a statistically significant difference in mode choice for journeys up to 500 kilometers. (p < 0.05, Z = -13.099) which signified the mode shift from railway / air travel to private vehicle. Males and females had no significant differences in mode preference for journeys up to 500 kilometers before and after the Covid scenarios.

Mode choice to reach airport

Prior to Covid, the majority of respondents (68 %) stated that they used intermediate para transit transportation (Taxis / Cabs) for their travel mode, which decreased to 38.8 % after Covid. During this time, there was a significant increase in the use of private vehicles, with 58.8 % of respondents preferring them. In the case of public transportation, such as buses and metros, the percentage of people using them decreased from 10 % before Covid to 2.4 % after Covid. During the pandemic, people tended to avoid using public transportation to some extent in order to get to the airports, which has now stabilized.

Increase in airfare

Respondents who began travelling during the ongoing unlocking period or after were also evaluated. The majority of respondents (47%) reported an increase in airfare as a result of pandemic, while 34 % reported no change in airfare. The majority of respondents (47 %) stated that they found an average of Rs.1000-3000 increase. While 12 % of respondents felt that the increase in air fare is more than Rs.5000.

Longer waits at check in and security checks

When compared to pre-Covid, 33 % of the respondents who have travelled during the before Covid period have experienced longer waits at the airport to complete their check-in and security checks. While, 67 % of the respondents don’t have experienced a longer waiting time. The majority of respondents (62 %) have experienced a total of 1 to 2 hours for completing the check-in and security check timings which is almost at par with that of pre-Covid scenario. At the same time, about 25 % and 13 % of respondents experienced an additional waiting time of up to 1 hour and up to 2 hours respectively after Covid-19 scenario.

Cancellation of intended trips during lockdown or post Covid

Interestingly, zero trip was cancelled by 48 % of respondents during partial lockdown or after the normal resumption. In the post-Covid scenario, more than 5 trips are cancelled by 7% of respondents. Approximately 18 % of respondents had one trip cancelled during Covid, whereas 27 % of respondents had two to five trips cancelled after Covid.

Resumption of Air Travel

Preference for the Resumption of Air Travel

In summary, most of the respondents have not started using air travel in this post-Covid scenario in a significant manner. Overall, half of the respondents informed after getting administered with the vaccine are likely resume their air travel. While 21 % of respondents expected to resume air travel in January 2021, another 18 % and 11 % expected to begin in February and March 2021, respectively.

Delhi, Ahmedabad and Varanasi airports

Basic recorded dynamics and growth rates of change were determined in order to analyze the dynamics of domestic air passenger traffic at the selected airports. The information was gathered between April 2015 and December 2020. There was a huge increase in the number of passengers travelling from or to the Delhi airport in 2016, i.e., about 63 % and 64 % increase in passenger traffic compared to 2015, respectively, while we saw the biggest collapse of -55 % from 2019 to 2020. There was only a 0.5 % increase in air passengers in 2019 compared to 2018, so traffic was measured as departures and arrivals of numbers of passengers to Delhi in both 2018 and 2019. It was nearly the same as the previous year, with 26.1 million departures and 25.8 million arrivals in the year 2019 in Delhi.

However, because of the impact of the lockdown and the post-Covid situation, the total number of passengers departed from Delhi in 2020 was only 11.6 million. It is evident that the fall in the air passenger traffic is so drastic that this figure is even lower than the total number of passengers departed in 2015, which was around 12.6 million. Similarly, the passenger arrivals in the Delhi airport in 2020 was only 11.3 million, as compared to 12.4 million in 2015.

International and domestic passengers in Ahmedabad are served by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport. In comparison to 2019, the year 2020 proved to be a very negative one, with the largest decreases in departure (by 57%) and arrival (by 58%). In the year 2020, the total number of passengers departing from Ahmedabad was 21.7 million, a significant decrease from the 30.7 million recorded in 2016. The same can be said for passenger arrivals, which totaled 21.4 million in 2020, compared to 30.3 million in 2016.

Varanasi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport serves both domestic and international passengers. Using data from April 2015 to December 2020, it was found that the growth rate of passenger traffic in Varanasi is not the same or linear, but fluctuated for this period. In comparison to 2019, the growth rate of departures and arrivals in 2020 is estimated at 39% and 40 % lower, respectively.

Total Domestic Passenger Traffic

Though the passenger growth increased every year since 2015 and up to 2019, the air traffic registered downward trend since April, 2020 due to Covid. The number of passengers flown in 2020 was 62.8 million, down from 143.7 million in the same period of the previous year, indicating a 56% decrease in passenger traffic. The number of passengers flying in 2020 was significantly lower than in 2015, with approximately 80.7 million passengers flying in 2015, a difference of approximately -17.9 million in 2020.

Summing up

The Covid pandemic has wreaked havoc on Indian air traffic. Despite the opening of domestic air traffic operations, it was discovered that the majority of respondents had no plans to travel and the majority of trips planned by respondents during Covid would be limited to only up to two trips. According to the findings of this study, respondents prefer to use private vehicles for journeys up to 500 kilometres in length during pandemic as opposed to air/rail in the pre-pandemic period. During Covid, there has been an increase in the use of private vehicles and para transit (e.g., taxi, cab) modes of transportation and a decrease in the use of public transportation and intermediate public transportation (e.g., auto rickshaw) modes of transportation to get to the airport. The analysis of air traffic data for the three major airports in 2020 revealed that passengers flown were 56% lower than in the previous year 2019. During Covid, the number of passengers departing and arriving has been steadily decreasing.

To restore normalcy, the Indian government has eased travel restrictions for domestic air travel within the country. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has been issuing revised guidelines. On arrival at the destination, passengers are to adhere to health protocols as prescribed by the destination State/UT. The aviation industry is currently recovering, but to avoid a repeat of the complete shutdown, air travel needs to be

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