Flight cancellations hit a record 80K people in February
Almost 80,000 passengers had their flights cancelled in February, the highest ever, reflecting the combined impact of the grounding of about 50 Jet Airways planes and curtailing of its schedule by IndiGo, India’s largest airline by market share. The aviation regulator expects that by the end of this month, the record would have already been broken.
According to the monthly report of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, 79,795 passengers were hit by flight cancellations last month, more than doubling from January, when 37,819 passengers had been affected. The previous record high was in March 2018, when IndiGo, with about 40% market share, grounded 12 planes because of snags experienced by Airbus A-320 NEO engines.
“We are expecting the data from March will be worse as Pakistan airspace closure happened by the end of February, leading to cancellations and also SpiceJet had to ground 12 Boeing Max 737s during mid-March. All these happened when the problem with Jet airways had worsened and IndiGo also continued to cancel flights,” a senior DGCA official said on condition of anonymity.
A cash crunch prompted Jet Airways’s unpaid lessors to repossess some aircraft in its fleet and IndiGo had to cancel 30 flights a day in February because of a shortage of pilots. An escalation in India-Pakistan tensions, following a dogfight between their fighter planes over the Line of Control in Kashmir, forced Pakistan to shut its airspace towards the end of last month, forcing airlines to divert their flights. SpiceJet had to ground its Boeing Max 737s in line with a DGCA order after the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight. Air India also grounded about two dozen aircraft in two months. Jet Airways, IndiGo and Spicejet did not respond to query sent on Wednesday morning.
Of the total passengers affected by flight cancellations in February, 41,549 were to fly by IndiGo and 13,595 by Jet Airways. The number of Air India and SpiceJet passengers who had flights cancelled was 11,455 and 10,524, respectively. “Our objective is to ensure passengers are not affected... We ask the airlines to provide details of refunds, rescheduling, hotel accommodation and compensation. In February, passengers got ~49.74 lakh as compensation and more than 50% of the passengers affected were from IndiGo,” said the official.
In line with the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR), airlines are required to submit data on number of cases of passengers denied boarding, cancellations and delays along with a monthly status report. DGCA started making the data public from June 2014.
Passengers carried by domestic airlines during January-February numbered 23.85 million compared with 22.2 million during the same period last year, an increase of 7.42%. In February alone, domestic airlines carried 11.39 million passengers, 5.62% more than in the same month last year — the lowest growth rate in four years.
“If February was bad, March and April will be disastrous. Miracles do not happen overnight and things will take time to settle down. Also with political uncertainty until May-end, expect the crisis to continue till June. We need political will to reduce the operational costs, but the aviation industry will have to be patient,” said aviation expert Mark Martin, CEO of Dubai-based Martin Consulting.
The airspace closure by Pakistan forced airlines flying on international routes to reroute their flights at extra cost. It had the biggest impact on Air India; the national airline ended up spending almost ~15 lakh per flight, what is the normal cost, and had to carry along extra crew for the longer duration of flights.
The crisis led to a sharp increase in fares — by 40-50% for same-day fares and, in some cases, up to 200% for last-minute fares, according to airline executives.
With Jet Airways preparing to resume flights, SpiceJet hoping to get more aircraft on lease, and IndiGo seeking to reduce the number of cancellations due to pilot shortages, the coming months could see a fall in air fares or, at the least, a return to normalcy, spelling relief for passengers, Hindustan Times reported on Thursday.