Domestic airlines, which were allowed to operate at up to a third of their total capacity when they resumed operations last month, can now increase the number of flights to as much as 45% of their capacity, regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Friday.

It isn’t clear how this will affect airlines as most of them are still operating at 20-25% of capacity with travel demand remaining muted because of fears of contracting COVID-19 and the collapse of business travel.

The decision has been taken after a review of the current status of domestic scheduled operations as compared to the demand for air travel, the ministry of Civil Aviation has noted in its circular.

“We are working on the schedule specific to different Airports in the country and soon we should be able to provide more connectivity to our citizens,” a senior government official said, confirming the increase in allowed capacity.

However, it is important to note that while the government had allowed airlines to operate with one-third capacity, most airlines were operating at less than 25 percent capacity, including the largest carrier IndiGo.

Earlier on June 26, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also announced that international flights to and from India would remain suspended until July 15, except on select routes as decided on a case-to-case basis. Puri had also recently said that once domestic flights are scaled up to around 55 percent, the government would consider the resumption of international flight operations.

After remaining suspended for almost two months in light of the COVID-19-led lockdown, domestic flight operations were allowed to resume in a staggered manner towards the end of May. Following the announcement, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said that minimum and maximum fares had been fixed, adding that fare would be regulated on the basis of flight duration.
Detailed guidelines and standard operating protocols were accordingly released for passengers undertaking domestic air travel.In a separate notification on Friday, DGCA said all international commercial air passenger services, barring repatriation flights, will remain suspended till 15 July.

The restrictions will not apply to international all-cargo flights, and those specifically approved by DGCA, it said. “However, international scheduled flights may also be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on a case-to-case basis,” it added.

Earlier this week, the Centre had said that it was looking at the prospect of establishing individual bilateral bubbles, including on India-US, India-France, India-Germany and India-UK routes, where travel demand had not diminished, and the final decisions were expected to be taken soon.

The US Department of transport had accused the Indian government of engaging in discriminatory and restrictive practices by leaving out American carriers from the government-backed Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) to repatriate stranded Indians from foreign countries, including the US.

The US had said that it would not allow Air India Ltd to operate any repatriation flights on India-US routes starting 22 July unless specifically permitted by the Department of Transport.