- Airlines suffered huge losses since various countries stopped flights
- The government has not indicated when international travel will restart
- India has over 1,00,000 COVID-19 cases and over 3,300 have died so far
Domestic passenger flights will resume from Monday "in a calibrated manner", the government said today. There may be fewer flights but Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said "it is not viable" to keep middle seat vacant as ticket prices would shoot up. Sources say the government has discussed capping air fares.
Flights were stopped in late March, when the country went into lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus.
"Domestic civil aviation operations will recommence in a calibrated manner from Monday 25th May 2020. All airports and air carriers are being informed to be ready for operations from 25th May," tweeted Mr Puri.
SOPs for passenger movement and details of flights are expected to be announced tomorrow when the minister briefs the media.
Domestic civil aviation operations will recommence in a calibrated manner from Monday 25th May 2020.— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) May 20, 2020
All airports & air carriers are being informed to be ready for operations from 25th May.
SOPs for passenger movement are also being separately issued by @MoCA_GoI.
While the government as well as airlines have talked about a "new normal" when flights start again, with fewer passengers in a flight, Mr Puri made it clear that it would not be possible to keep the middle seat vacant, which had been one of the suggestions for ensuring physical distancing to avoid the infection.
"It's not viable to keep the middle seat vacant. Even if you keep the middle seat vacant you'll still have a situation where the prescribed distance for social distancing isn't followed. If you were to do it then you've to hike up airline ticket price by 33 per cent," the minister was quoted as telling news agency ANI.
It's not viable to keep the middle seat vacant.Even if you keep middle seat vacant you'll still have a situation where prescribed distance for social distancing isn't followed. If you were to do it then you've to hike up airline ticket price by 33%:Civil Aviation Minister HS Puri pic.twitter.com/9LfiI9tAA3— ANI (@ANI) May 20, 2020
Airports have started preparing for flights in the time of COVID-19.
NDTV has learnt that starting from entry gate to alighting point everything check would be contactless and physical distancing in food areas will be enforced.
Airport authorities are also in talks with cab aggregators on a "sticker system" to indicate that the vehicle is ready and sanitized for passenger use.
The government has not indicated when international travel will restart.
Most airports are already functional as cargo flights, those for medical evacuation and special flights to repatriate Indians stranded abroad have been operating during the lockdown.
Earlier, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced lockdown4 with incremental easing of restrictions, aviation regulator DGCA had asserted that scheduled commercial passenger flights would stay suspended till May 31.
Yesterday, the minister had tweeted that it was not upto the central government alone to decide on when domestic flights could restart.
"In the spirit of cooperative federalism, the government of states where these flights will take off and land should be ready to allow civil aviation operations," Hardeep Puri had tweeted on Tuesday.
Sources say Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was among those reluctant to begin flights again, because Mumbai, one of the busiest destinations, has the most number of virus cases among cities. Mr Thackeray is reportedly now on board with the idea.
Airlines have suffered huge losses since various countries stopped flights in their fight against the pandemic. India first blocked the entry of people from abroad and then stopped flights altogether as it went into total lockdown.
Some inter-state trains resumed a week ago.
The flights announcement comes as the biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections was reported in the country, with 5,611 new cases in 24 hours.
India has more than 100,000 cases and more than 3,300 people have died.