Domestic flight services to resume from May 25
India will resume domestic flights beginning May 25, the government said on Wednesday, announcing a gradual reboot of air travel that was halted two months ago on account of a lockdown imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
“All airports and air carriers are being informed to be ready for operations from 25th May. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for passenger movement are also being separately issued by civil aviation ministry,” civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri tweeted. The guidelines for air travel are expected on Thursday.
The government’s plan for the resumption of services may feature recommending a price band for different routes keeping in mind “the interest of both the consumer and the airline”, a civil aviation ministry official who did not want to be named said.
Inside planes, middle seats might not be left vacant though such a proposal was initially on the table, according to the official, who also said measures will be taken to maintain social distancing at airports. On completion of travel, passengers will have to abide by the guidelines laid down by the destination state.
In the first phase, the flights are likely to cater to all major Tier-I cities.
A draft SOP by the civil aviation ministry earlier this month suggested that cabin luggage will be barred and those above 80 might not be allowed on board for now. It also said passengers’ identity checks will not be required so as to minimise the crowd at terminal gates. But the government was quick to clarify that these were just draft proposals, and that a final call was yet to be taken.
Last week, the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which manages 100-odd airports in India, released its own guidelines for passengers, citing the “possibility of domestic flights”. AAI asked travellers to maintain a distance of four feet, wear a mask and other protective gear, wash or sanitise their hands frequently, and carry a 350 ml bottle of sanitiser all the time. Downloading the contact-tracing Aarogya Setu app in mobile phones will be mandatory, and passengers will have to do a web check-in before the journey and a carry a printout of the boarding pass, according to the AAI guidelines.
Domestic flight services have been put on hold since March 25, when the nationwide lockdown was first imposed, and international flights have not arrived in India since March 22. Cargo flights and those evacuating foreign nationals have been operating though.
Opening the skies for domestic flight services is seen as yet another step by the government in the direction of a graded exit from the lockdown, which has been extended till the end of this month. The curbs have taken a toll on the Indian economy, stalling activities across sectors, including the aviation industry.
“We have been prepared for resuming domestic flights for a while and made all necessary arrangements, but states expressed some reservations on resuming the operations in a meeting held a day before the home ministry guidelines were issued,” a second civil aviation ministry official said, referring to the Centre’s May 17 order on the lockdown that listed air travel as a banned activity across the country. Shortly after the announcement on the resumption of flights, the home ministry amended its order, removing domestic air services from the list.
A meeting with the chief executive officers (CEOs) of airlines is scheduled to be held on Thursday and the SOP on air travel could be made public after that, according to the second official. The Centre will also issue guidelines for the movement of passengers for reaching airports.
On Tuesday, civil aviation minister Puri said state governments should be ready to allow civil aviation operations “in the spirit of cooperative federalism”. “It is not up to the civil aviation ministry or the Centre alone to decide on resuming domestic flights,” he said.
Airlines welcomed the government’s move to resume air services.
“While the SOP for the resumption of operations and details of flights to be operated is still awaited, we are sure that this much-awaited move will help a large number of passengers by providing them access to the safest and quickest means of transport… We will strictly adhere to social distancing norms and SOPs laid down by the government to ensure the best, the cleanest and the most sanitised flying experience,” said Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director, SpiceJet.
IndiGo said it is fully prepared for the resumption of flights in a phased manner. “We will share further details and guidelines for passengers, in line with the advisory from the authorities over the next few days,” the private airline said in a statement.