Confusion emanated over Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announcing the city’s airport would be shut from Monday till March 31. The central government later overruled him, clarifying that flight operations would continue.
Union government officials and executives of airports and airlines said they were caught off-guard by the CM’s announcement, of which there had been no prior intimation.
Kejriwal had at a 6 pm press meet on Sunday announced the city government was imposing a ‘lockdown’ of the Union Territory and barring all to and fro movement across its borders. With Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal present, he said all domestic flights into the city had also been banned till March 31.
However, within 30 minutes, the civil aviation ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation announced flights would continue as before. “This is hara-kiri (the popular term for Japanese ritual suicide). It’s impossible to cancel flights, inform passengers and bring back aircraft at six hours notice. There should be more coordination in times of crisis between different wings of the government,” said an airline executive.
Other states have issued orders of lockdown, banning bus and other public transport, but kept airports and railway stations out of the purview. For instance, the West Bengal government’s order of lockdown from Monday does this.
IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara, and Air India are based out of Delhi airport. “If Delhi operations are shut, we will have to close operations,” said an executive at one.
According to a government estimate, airlines will anyway have to ground 68 per cent of their fleet in the next two months as demand falters. To save the sector from bankruptcy, the Centre is planning a relief package — tax holiday on jet fuel, waiver on landing and parking charges, loans at 1 per cent annual interest and more.
Runway now a parking bay
One of the three runways at the Delhi airport is being used for parking of planes for the past two days as airlines are grounding planes and cancelling flights owing to low demand and travel bans. Delhi is the busiest airport in the country and its three runways handle over 1,300 flights daily.
(With inputs from Aneesh Phadnis )