Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, India’s largest, emerged as the second busiest airport in the world in March, displacing Dubai Airport and trailing only Atlanta in the pecking order, according to OAG, a global travel data provider.
Its flight to the second position was the result of a strong recovery in the domestic aviation market.
The government’s decision to reopen international flights last month also helped increase traffic flow.
“With the rise in the number of vaccinated people across the world, governments are easing travel restrictions and slowly opening up their borders.
"India opened its borders and allowed the entry of fully vaccinated international travellers into the country.
"These steps have largely helped the travel and tourism industry and given a much-needed boost to air travel,” said Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, CEO, Delhi international Airport Ltd.
Airlines operating into the Delhi airport flew around 3.6 million seats as compared to 4.4 million deployed by airlines in Atlanta.
However, experts said that Delhi’s rise in the pecking order was an anomaly primarily because of other big aviation markets not yet being fully open for international travel.
“The rise in Delhi’s rank is primarily due to the significant recovery in India’s domestic travel market,” said Mayur Patel, head of Asia at OAG Aviation.
“As compared to other large markets in the region like China or Singapore, which have been very strict when it comes to removing Covid curbs, the Indian government has adopted a policy of mass vaccination and gradual opening up, which has helped the aviation industry.
"However, as more and more countries open up and relax their travel restrictions, Delhi will lose its rank.”
Unlike Delhi, other large airports in the region like Dubai and Changi primarily depend on international traffic, which is yet to recover.
Many are also yet to fully remove restrictions post two years of Covid.
For example, Thailand, which is a prime source of traffic for Dubai airport, still requires travellers to have a minimum stay for five nights.
Beijing and Shanghai, among the busiest airports in the world, are again facing stiff restrictions as a fresh wave of Covid is sweeping through the country.
A drop in the number of Covid-19 cases, relaxation in restrictions, and the beginning of school and college holidays in some parts of India are contributing to the demand recovery.
The long weekend resulted in a surge in traffic as airlines witnessed high loads both on flights to popular leisure destinations such as Goa and Srinagar and also on metro-to-metro flights.
On April 18, which was a Sunday, India’s domestic passenger numbers crossed the 400,000-mark and for the entire month of April, air traffic was around 10 million, which was 96 per cent of April 2019 — a benchmark of pre-Covid traffic.
India’s largest airline, IndiGo, is currently operating 1,600 flights daily, which is more than what it used to operate in 2019.
The airline is also deploying more A321 aircraft, which have 30-50 seats more than the A320 aircraft.