Is the Chennai airport slowly moving out of the radar of airlines — both domestic and international? Data says so with a decline in the number of flights at Chennai. The situation is not alarming but the drop is a matter of concern. The drop was more on the domestic front than international, say trade sources.

Data from global aviation analytics firm Cirium shows that the number of monthly flights to Chennai — both domestic and international — dropped by nearly 1,000 or 15 per cent to 5,678 in February 2024 against 6,682 in February 2019. This in turn led to 5 per cent decline in the number of seats to 10.43 lakh (10.98 lakh).

On the domestic front, Air India reduced its flights to Delhi to 116 (140), flights to Hyderabad are down to 25 (36) and in the case of Port Blair it is down to 29 (44). Indigo’s frequency to Bengaluru is down to 174 (187); and to Coimbatore 145 (176). Go Airlines and Jet Airways are out of action, and SpiceJet significantly stopped its flights to many destinations, including Tuticorin and Kozhikode. These also led to the drop.

New destinations

On the positive side, Indigo added many new destinations and Akasa Air entered the sector. Air India more than doubled the number of flights to Mumbai with 151 flights (74), data show.

In the international sector, Cathay Pacific Airways, which used to fly 24 flights to Hong Kong has reduced frequency by half; Sri Lankan Airlines’ flights to Colombo are down by 30 per cent to 82 (112), in the period under review. However, new airlines have come on board. This includes Biman Bangladesh Airlines to Dhaka; Ethiopian Airlines introducing flights to Addis Ababa; FITS Aviation to Colombo; Jazeera Airways to Kuwait and US-Bangla Airlines’ flights to Dhaka.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa said that from April it would reduce its number of flights from Frankfurt to Chennai to five from seven. This is due to the acute aircraft capacity issues faced by the industry. The schedule adjustments will be made across the summer 2024 schedule, including to Bangalore. “We are fully committed to Chennai and due to an acute aircraft shortage we need to temporarily reduce our frequencies to this city. We will be back with daily flights as soon as possible and hopefully as soon as our winter schedule commences,” George Ettiyil, Senior Director South Asia, Lufthansa Group, told businessline.

Data from Airports Authority of India show that the Chennai airport saw a dip in both international and domestic traffic between April-December 2023 when compared with April-December 2019. The airport handled 4.38 million international passengers in April-December 2023 versus 4.59 million in April-December 2019. Similarly, the airport handled 12.6 million domestic passengers in April-December 2019, and it declined to 11.4 million in April- December 2023.

Air turbine rates

The drop in frequency could also be due to operational reasons like air turbine fuel prices being expensive in Chennai due to State government taxes. In Hyderabad, the tax is lower and helps the airlines, said P Murugesan, Director of Pioneer Aero Travels.

In Hyderabad and Bangalore airports, managed by private operators, the airport charges are more flexible. Hence airlines are prepared to operate to these airports, said Murugesan, who is also a Managing Committee Member-National Managing Committee Member of National Travel Agents Association Of India.

There are also complaints on the facilities at the Chennai airport. A tweet says, there are not enough aerobridges for international flights. The airport only has four of them and during peak hours big wide body planes have to park elsewhere forcing them to use buses.

The drop in international flights also echoed in the Parliament with Rajya Sabha Member from Tamil Nadu P Wilson stating there has been a drastic increase in the withdrawal of operations of international flights by international operators. This is due to a shortage of aerobridges for international flights, with only four available. Many flights are handled at remote parking bays away from the terminal, which has significantly increased the time to board and alight passengers, load and unload baggage.

Chennai International Airport is among the top 50 airports in Asia and accommodates over 18 million passengers annually. Many international operators seek to expand their flight operations in India but opt for alternative airports such as Bangalore and Hyderabad over Chennai, he said, seeking urgent action by the Centre to improve the situation at the Chennai airport.

Chennai Airport corporate communication did not respond to a query on the issue.