After the national lockdown is revoked on May 3, how long will it take for flight services to resume normal operations? Especially domestic civil flights and international travel operations to start once again. Many people were caught in the middle of nowhere due to a sudden emergency announced by the Modi government on March 24, and a national lockout was imposed. It has been more than a month since India’s sky has been clear and airline officials are waiting for some ‘good news’ from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
Based on a senior AAI official“Indian operators have around 650 odd planes in their fleet and parking for these planes is not a problem. All shared airports, including the government-owned Airport Authority (AAI) airport, can handle more planes.”
Plane parked on a runway: No waiver of parking fees incurred
Delhi Airport has parking space for 196 aircraft, while Mumbai airport has parking conditions for 100 aircraft. Several aircraft were also parked on the runway as a temporary arrangement, with Delhi airport being the only facility that has three runways. A large number of planes flying on domestic routes came to park at the facility. When India stopped international flight operations and landed all domestic flights, the planes were now parked at various airports until ordering continues when Covid-19 is controlled.
Airlines, however, must pay parking fees for their flights at the airport and the Indian government has not taken steps to issue a waiver on parking fees for flights parked at airports across the country. Before locking took place, Indian airports handled around 3,330 domestic departures and 580 international flights per day throughout the city, according to the flight schedule agreed to as of the end of March.
During operation, the aircraft used for daytime flight operations are the same ones used for international operations at night. So at any given point in time, the number of planes parked at the airport is never high.
While many countries such as the US, Australia, Singapore, France, Sweden, Norway and New Zealand have announced financial assistance packages for airlines in terms of loan guarantees, funding assistance, and tax cuts, India has not yet announced bailout packages for various industries including aviation sector. With support currently being provided to the airline sector, the road to recovering losses caused during the coronavirus pandemic can take years – if not even a decade.
When flights continue: Post lockout actions by the Government
As the lockdown will be lifted and the pilot sector sigh of relief to take on new heights, some restrictions have been imposed by the government as the country slowly moves towards achieving normality of life, this includes – domestic airlines may have to collect flights if the number of passengers flying is low.
In addition, passengers will be asked to report far earlier than the current norm of 60 to 120 minutes, to allow time for detailed safety and health checks of passengers boarding the aircraft. The new normal post-coronavirus at the airport will see strict screening from passengers, cabin crew staff wearing masks, gloves, keeping sanitation steady and no food will be served on the flight.
With the need for social distance emphasized by the government, interaction between business class passengers and cabin crew will be limited to a minimum of 3 or 4 during medium distance flights. Because it is economically unfeasible to fly only one third or fourth of the total aircraft capacity, then passengers who were stranded for a Mumbai-Delhi flight can be collected together. India’s largest domestic airline will step up operations once the ban is lifted and stop food service in aircraft for a brief period until the traces of the spread of the corona virus disappear completely.
With a longer security check and minimal contact points between aircraft staff and passengers, end-to-end travel times are expected to increase with passengers being asked to report at the airport two to three hours before their flight departure. In addition, baggage check-in and security checks will take longer than usual, given the application of social distance practices at the airport. Also, non-human contact points such as airport check-in kiosks to facilitate web check-in will be emphasized for traveling passengers.
Hardeep Singh Puri, the country’s civil aviation minister, tweeted on April 20, said that flight restrictions would be lifted “once we were convinced that the spread of the virus had been controlled and that it did not harm our country and our people” and reiterated that no decision had been taken about when to reopen flights.
Air Asia intends to restart its business operations in stages starting May 4, with only 24 airplanes reducing inter-city frequencies and bookings for flight services have begun. The airline anticipates that it will take time to build passenger traffic, and the first crowd of people are stranded in different cities, waiting to return to their respective homes, after the lockdown has ended.
Meanwhile, Air India and the Indian Navy have been alerted by the Government to evacuate Indian migrant workers from the Gulf countries, when the COVID-19 pandemic increased. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is consulting with States and Territories (UT), and governments to make the necessary arrangements before the process starts when the lock is opened on May 3.
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