Air India may soon start ‘scenic joy flights’ to bank on wanderlust
Airline officials familiar with the developments told HT that these “scenic joy flights” will be low-flying expeditions that give passengers an aerial tour of famous spots in IndiaUpdated: Sep 23, 2020, 11:38 IST
Want to travel but have nowhere to go? The lack of a destination may soon not be problem.
Taking a cue from some international airlines, notably Australia’s Qantas Airways, India’s national carrier Air India is planning to start its own version of “flights to nowhere” that will take-off from and land at the same airport, taking flyers on a picturesque journey in a bid to scratch the travel itch.
Airline officials familiar with the developments told HT that these “scenic joy flights” will be low-flying expeditions that give passengers an aerial tour of famous spots in India. What these spots will be is still being discussed, as is pricing and other modalities, the officials added.
“Yes, we are exploring the possibility of starting a scenic flight service. Other details are to be decided,” an Air India spokesperson said, adding that wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 747 will be used for the service.
A second official, who asked not to be named, said that the idea was discussed earlier this month after Qantas announced seven-hour-long flights during which the passenger will be able to spot attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Harbour. Qantas announced that the flights -- priced between $575 and $2,765 (between ₹42,000 and ₹2 lakh)depending on the cabin class -- were sold out in 10 minutes. Apart from Qantas, other airlines, including Royal Brunei, are operating similar flights.
Health experts, however, warned that these flights may be an avoidable risk at a time when cases in India are still rising, and that only essential travel is recommended.
Doctor RK Singhal, director, department of medicine, at Delhi’s BLK Super Speciality Hospital, said Covid-19 cases in the country are going over 90,000 a day and at least 4000 daily in Delhi. “This is the tip of the iceberg. The numbers are on a continuous rise... When cases are still to peak in the country, such unnecessary movements need to be restricted,” Singhal said.
Aviation expert Mark Martin said low-level flying usually means flying aircraft at 1,000 feet above the Minimum Obstacle Clearance Altitude (MOCA), which varies from place to place depending on obstacles and visibility. “Usually this depends on the region in which an aircraft is flying. For example, for Mumbai, the MOCA is about 3,000 feet. In such cases the air traffic control takes the call and allows an aircraft the level it can fly lowest at,” Martin said.
He said a Boeing 747 can fly as low as 500 to 1,000 feet for display flights, but in what regions it can be allowed to fly that low depends on the region and on the Air Traffic Control’s safety approval.
Cruising speed of a normal Boeing 747 during a low-altitude flight would be around 250 knots i.e. roughly 400 km per hour.
After a two-month suspension of airspace in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease, India resumed flight operations on May 25. International flights are going only to select destinations under an “air bubble” arrangement under the Vande Bharat Mission. Domestic flights in India are operating to allroutes, but with strict safety measures in place.
“Of late, many flyers have taken to social media to narrate how they feel about not being able to go on vacations or fly out of their cities because of Covid outbreak. Many also spoke about how they miss flyings but cannot go to tourist destinations as tourism is also affected due to existing restrictions in the country. The ‘joy flights’ will get experience of flying back, and will also be something never experienced before. It is expected to be welcomed by the Indian flyers also,” said a third official aware of the development who asked not to be named.
But experts warned that Covid safety measures will have to be considered.
At least three studies have analysed in-flight transmission of Covid-19. They found that the air circulation inside the airplane cabin may have reduced the rate of transmission and that wearing masks could further reduce the risk of spread, while seat proximity increased this risk. In one of the instances, a 10-hour flight from London to Hanoi resulted in 15 people getting infected from one index patient. The second detailed in-flight transmission in two people on a 4 hour, 40 minute Tel Aviv-Frankfurt flight and the third studied transmission in two passengers and two crew members on a 15-hour flight from Boston to Hong Kong.
Doctor T Jacob John, a retired professor of clinical virology at Christian Medical College, Vellore said it is crucial that airlines take all necessary precautions. “This will get people out of monotony and airlines will earn revenue at the same time. Everyone must wear a mask. Transmission inside an aircraft does occur, but at a slow pace because the air is sucked away regularly and is recycled. There’s some risk but if people will be properly screened it’s a good initiative. Im sure airline will be considering all safety precautions,” John said.