Delhi Airport sees business potential from rare repatriation flights

Experts and network planners are sceptical about the potential of such rare routes becoming permanent.
International repatriation flights during the nationwide lockdown have opened up a new opportunity for the Delhi airport. 

Executives at the country’s busiest airport were pleasantly surprised to see airlines from across the world flying to take back their citizens during the Covid-19-induced lockdown. “It was surprising to see some of the requests for repatriation flights. It was hard to believe that so many citizens from countries such as Panama, Nicaragua work in India that it could fill a full flight,” said a Delhi airport official.

During the two months of the lockdown, the airport handled about 92 flights handling 8,000 passengers to 28 destinations that weren’t connected to Delhi before. Now the airport, which is connected to 73 international locations, sees an opportunity — operating regular flights to some of these new destinations.

These include several long-haul destinations like Accra in Ghana; Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington in New Zealand; Brisbane in Australia; Cairo and Marsa Alam in Egypt; Jakarta and Denpasar-Bali in Indonesia; Zhengzhou in China; Shymkent, Atyrau and Karagandy/Sary-Arka in Kazakhstan; Domodedovo in Russia; and Dublin in Ireland. 

“Many of these new destinations have high tourism potential and may attract airlines to add these to their scheduled service routes,” said the executive.

The person cited the example of New Zealand which has become a favoured destination for Indian students. “In the last five years, the country saw a remarkable increase in the number of Indian students taking admission in universities and colleges of this country,” the person said.

The airport’s business, like any other airport across the globe, has been severely hit by the pandemic and is counting on a renewed boom in travel after the international borders open up. That’s where it sees an opportunity with these destinations. “Indian travellers are moving towards experiential travel to relatively unexplored countries,” the person said.

 “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, travel industry is among the worst-affected industries today. We hope to defeat the pandemic in the remaining few months. Delhi International Airport (DIAL), which operates the Delhi airport, continues to pave the way by building confidence and encouraging people to travel by air. We have been following all the precautionary protocols to comply with the Covid-19 safety measures while handling the evacuation operation during the lockdown,” said Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, chief executive officer, DIAL.

However, experts and network planners are sceptical about the potential of such rare routes becoming permanent.

Ameya Joshi, founder of aviation analysis blog Network Thoughts, said good occupancy in repatriation flights doesn’t mean there is a year-round requirement of flights. “Traffic due to the repatriation flights is one-off and may not form a good basis for planning scheduled flights. It requires a steady flow of business — tourist and Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) traffic to sustain flights to a destination,” he said. 

An official of Air India, which has flown over 1,000 repatriation flights, said traffic from these destinations has always been there, but spread out across the year which makes it difficult for airlines to plan regular flights. The airline has operated to destinations which it never had flown before. “For instance, for Dublin it is very difficult to plan a regular flight, and it is better served by European hubs like Amsterdam. New Zealand may have potential for direct connectivity but the problem is the distance. It is very hard to be viable over such a distance and only can be connected with some select aircraft type that may be able to make it,” the official said.

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