December marked a significant milestone for Indian aviation history as the country recorded its highest-ever domestic air traffic for a single month, with 13.8 million passengers taking to the skies. This figure represents an impressive 8.4% increase compared to December 2022 and a notable 6.1% surge when compared to the pre-pandemic levels of December 2019. This exceeded the previous peak, which was reached in May of this year with 13.21 million domestic flights.
In December 2023, there were 91,044 flights, marking a modest 3% increase from December 2022 when airlines operated 88,128 departures. In December 2019, the total number of domestic flights across all airlines stood at 94,910, only marginally higher than the figure recorded in 2023.
The number of Indian carriers with an active fleet has decreased over the past year, primarily as a result of problems with three major airlines: Go First ceased operations in May, due to financial difficulties SpiceJet kept the planes grounded and more than 40 IndiGo aircraft remained grounded because of Pratt & Whitney engine problems.
In the past, longer summer breaks didn’t bring about as much travel as the December year-end holidays. This is because, in contrast to a larger summer holiday window, when traffic is dispersed across 45 to 60 days rather than 10 days, holiday traffic travels during a shorter holiday window.
Momentum picked up following November’s decline
December proved to be a crucial month, with a notable uptick in aviation activity, following a brief halt in November, when the upward trajectory of air traffic momentarily paused even despite Diwali celebrations. This resurgence can be attributed to dynamic economic shifts and strategic promotional fares offered by airlines.
The number of passengers in December 2023 recorded an average of 445,000 passengers per day, marking a significant increase of 22,000 passengers per day compared to the previous month. The boost in air traffic was fuelled by IndiGo’s capacity expansion, facilitated by the wet-leasing of 11 additional aircraft. Additionally, the Tata Group contributed to the surge by augmenting capacity across its three airlines.
As the year and month came to an end on a positive note, airlines are preparing for the impending challenges of 2024. Particularly IndiGo may have to ground as many as 40 more aircraft. Another critical aspect under scrutiny is the evolving landscape of COVID-19, especially with the latest variant showing an upward trajectory in cases within neighbouring countries, some of which have granted “visa-free” travel for Indians. The potential impact of New Year celebrations on the COVID-19 case count in India remains a focal point of anticipation. Before worrying about the future, it’s time to enjoy the successes of the last year.
(With inputs from agencies)