Reversing its recent stance, the government on Wednesday announced that domestic airline operations would resume on May 25, more than two months after all flights were halted. Earlier this week, the Union home ministry, while announcing the extension of lockdown, had prohibited air transport till May 31.
“Domestic civil aviation operations will recommence in a calibrated manner from Monday, May 25. All airports and air carriers are being informed to be ready for operations from May 25,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced in a Twitter message, adding that the final SOP (standard operating procedure) on resumption was being framed by his ministry.
Passengers will have to web check-in and will not be allowed to carry luggage inside the aircraft cabin except for a laptop or a purse. Also, airlines will have to provide a mask, face shield and sanitizers to passengers at the time of boarding, it is learnt.
India grounded domestic air transport starting March 24, a day before the lockdown came into effect, to curb the spread of the coronavirus. International flights, which were stopped on March 22, remain shut.
Puri’s tweet caught airlines and airports off guard as they were preparing to resume operations from June 1. But, later in the evening civil aviation secretary held a meeting with chief executive officers of airlines to discuss service resumption plans.
A senior government official said flights would be allowed to all cities irrespective of whether they were in red or green zone. An earlier plan of resuming flights only between cities in green zones didn’t work as airlines dismissed it as unviable.
According to a Maharashtra government official, the state hasn’t yet decided to relax any lockdown guidelines in Mumbai as cases continue to surge.
“The government ideally should have given more time for a resumption. Slot filings have just started. These need to get approved. Only then we can open for sale. We are left with just two days. There is no clarity yet if we can fly to all cities,” an airline executive said.
A source said only 35 per cent of flights would be allowed on metro routes in the first phase in order to maintain social distancing across airports. Airlines may be permitted to fly 50 per cent of flights between metros and non-metros. Delhi Airport, which usually has more than 60 aircraft movements per hour, would allow only 14 flights per hour, he pointed out.
Initially, airports will operate for a limited period in a day to make time for sanitisation of terminals.
Persons above 80 years of age will not be allowed to fly during the first phase, an official said. Wearing mask will be compulsory in airports as well as for the entire duration of any flight.
Airlines--many on the brink of bankruptcy--welcomed the government decision to open up air traffic. “We will be resuming flight operations from Monday, May 25, 2020, in a phased manner. We are fully prepared with safety measures for Covid-19 across all our passenger and cargo interfaces during their journey with us. We will share further details and guidelines for passengers, in line with the advisory from the authorities over the next few days,” the largest private airline IndiGo said in a statement.
SpiceJet CEO Ajay Singh said the resumption of air transport would go a long way in lifting the overall economic sentiment in the country.
“SpiceJet is all geared up to resume operations post lockdown and is committed to provide the highest level of cleanliness and a safe, secure and healthy flying experience to its passengers and staff,’’ he said.
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