Direct Tier-2 connects, new airports mark return of domestic flights

The summer schedule for domestic flights this year will see a comeback for India’s civil aviation as the weekly flight number — 25,309 — will surpass the last pre-pandemic schedule for the first time.

In this proposed schedule, three discernible aspects tell the story of India’s air connectivity: direct connections for tier-2 airports, so far connected through hubs like Delhi or Mumbai; non-RCS connectivity for airports that were brought on to the aviation map through the regional connectivity scheme (RCS); and three new airports that could see flight operations for the first time.

Once the new schedule kicks in, several tier-2 airports that are so far connected to each other or to other major centres through a hub like Delhi or Mumbai will have direct flights once the new schedule kicks in. These include connections such as Ahmedabad-Guwahati, Srinagar-Ahmedabad, Hyderabad-Srinagar, Vadodara-Chennai, Jaipur-Patna, Dehradun-Kolkata, Mumbai-Port Blair, Jammu-Pune etc. Notably, many of the routes in this category are seeing flights being mounted by IndiGo.

Another aspect is the added connectivity to airports that were originally brought on to the aviation map through the regional connectivity scheme, but are now seeing airline operations outside of the scheme’s ambit. These routes include Lucknow-Pantnagar, Delhi-Pantnagar, Agra-Ahmedabad, Bengaluru-Kadapa and Mumbai-Shirdi.

Third, airlines have also proposed to mount flights to three new airports — Gondia in Maharashtra, Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh and Puducherry. SpiceJet plans to operate a Bengaluru-Puducherry service and a Hyderabad-Puducherry service. Other routes in this bucket are Indore-Gondia, Ziro-Dibrugarh, and Hyderabad-Gondia.

The domestic flight schedule is prepared together by civil aviation stakeholders, including airlines, airport operators, DGCA and the government, and in two parts — summer and winter. In the summer schedule for 2022, a total of 112 airports across India are proposed to be connected. Market leader IndiGo will operate 11,130 domestic flights every week, followed by SpiceJet with 4,192 flights, GoAir with 2,557 weekly flights and Air India with 2,456 flights.

Compared to this, in the winter schedule of 2021, 108 airports saw 22,287 weekly flights, while in the summer schedule of 2021, 22,980 flights were mounted every week. In the summer schedule for 2020, which would have been effective in the absence of the pandemic, 24,409 weekly flights were planned.

In the first bucket of flights, where two cities with no direct connection so far are now getting non-stop flights, it is typical for airlines to sell tickets for a sector that is made up of two flights to ascertain the traffic volumes on those sectors before launching direct connections.

For example, IndiGo, which is launching the Hyderabad-Srinagar direct flight, sells tickets for the Hyderabad-Srinagar sector with a layover in Delhi, where a passenger needs to change the aircraft. Low-cost carrier GoAir operates an Ahmedabad-Srinagar flight with a 30-minute layover in Chandigarh, where passengers do not need to change the aircraft, and will commence a direct Srinagar-Ahmedabad service.

Sector experts, however, have flagged concerns with the airlines’ ability of complying with the proposed schedules, where despite getting approvals for operating air services, airlines do not actually launch flights on certain sectors. Aspects such as delay in aircraft delivery, airport maintenance works, or a change in route economics lead to airlines not complying with the approved schedule.

The information about the proposed routes in the summer schedule has been sourced from DGCA and various online travel portals.

In addition to these routes, there are over 100 routes, where airlines did not operate in the winter schedule of 2021 — valid till March 26 — but are proposed to be added in the upcoming schedule. These include Ahmedabad-Kolhapur, Lucknow-Amritsar, Chennai-Bhopal, Chandigarh-Chennai, Lucknow-Jaipur, Lucknow-Prayagraj and Pune-Visakhapatnam.

In a press release, SpiceJet said it was introducing eight new “industry-first flights”, including in the Gorakhpur-Kanpur, Gorakhpur-Varanasi, Jaipur-Dharamshala and Tirupati-Shirdi sectors. State-owned airline Alliance Air also, in a series of tweets, announced new flights on its network from March 27, including daily services between Hyderabad and Goa, Hyderabad and Pune, Kolkata and Ranchi, Delhi and Lucknow, Hyderabad and Vijayawada, and Bengaluru and Kochi.

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