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Airports in India staring at 40-60% fall in passenger volume

By Surajeet Das Gupta & Aneesh Phadnis
April 09, 2020 14:39 IST
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Such a disruption will take the clock back by many years - in terms of passengers handled - for these airports, thus raising questions among some of the airport operators over a delay in expansion plans.

Private Indian airports are staring at a steep 40-60 per cent fall in passenger volume this financial year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Such a disruption will take the clock back by many years - in terms of passengers handled - for these airports, thus raising questions among some of the airport operators over a delay in expansion plans.

 

Private joint venture airports (seven of them), including Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad accounted for over 54 per cent of the 349 million passengers in CY19.

“Overall traffic is expected to decline by 50-60 per cent, but the impact will vary for each airport.

"Airports in Kerala may see a higher impact as a large percentage of their traffic is to West Asia,” said Satyan Nayar, secretary general of the Association of Private Airport Operators, based on feedback from its members.

According to people in the know, Delhi airport - the busiest in the country - handled 68 million passengers last year.

GMR Group, which operates the airport, was expecting passenger growth to stabilise in 2020.

However, a senior official of the airport said that based on existing conditions, numbers are unlikely to exceed 33 million this year.

He said this was primarily because there is no question of people starting to travel even after the lockdown is lifted, especially international.

However, officials in Hyderabad and Delhi airports, which are run by the GMR Group, said: “At this point, we are assessing what domestic demand will be, once the suspension in operations is lifted.

"Various options including consolidating terminal operations are being evaluated. There is no plan to defer any ongoing expansion works.”

They pointed out that Delhi was currently handling 25-30 operations, while Hyderabad was doing 4-7 a day, which were mostly foreign evacuation and cargo.

Further, with an extension of the lockdown looking certain, and with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation mandating social distancing norms on flights, which would reduce seat capacity substantially, traffic is not expected to get back to normal.

Mumbai airport spokespersons did not respond to an email.

However, a director in one of the PPP airports, said: “We have no revenues, airlines have said they will not even pay rent until flights are allowed, so how can we pay revenue share to the Airports Authority of India?

"Or, how do we pay our loans? We have to relook our expansion plans and preserve cash, or delay it as it will take time to fill the existing capacity. Brace for even retrenchment.”

Aviation consultancy CAPA estimates domestic traffic to decline from around 140 million in FY20 to 80-90 million in FY21.

International traffic is expected to fall from approximately 70 million in FY20 to 35-40 million in FY21, and possibly less, it said.

Already, airport operators are seeking a financial package from the government, including a tax holiday, moratorium on payments, deferral of concession fees, and loans at attractive rates.

Extension of the lockdown and a projected fall in air traffic would also force airport operators to recalibrate their expansion plans.

Construction of a new terminal at Bengaluru will be delayed and the work will commence once the lockdown is lifted, as the project capital is already tied, said a person in the know.

Photograph: B Mathur/Reuters

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Surajeet Das Gupta & Aneesh Phadnis in Delhi/Mumbai
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