NEW DELHI: Resumption of schedule passengers flights after April 14-15 midnight, unless the lockdown is extended to contain spread of coronavirus, will be a gradual affair. Allowing passengers — mostly Indians stranded abroad — to fly to India will be decided on a country to country (from where they have to return) basis depending on the call taken by the heath and home ministries.
“Even before international flights were suspended on March 22, there were restrictions on people coming to India (similar to those adopted by many other countries) depending on the corona situation there. Unless the lockdown is extended, the health ministry will decide which all countries are safe enough (Corona-Wise) to allow people to fly from there to India starting April 15,” said aviation secretary P S Kharola on Thursday.
Airlines in their internal communications have also told employees that once the lockdown is lifted, chances of domestic operations resuming first are higher than international which could be a more gradual affair.
In a video conference organised by the aviation ministry, Air India chairman Rajiv Bansal said AI has signed contract with four countries to operate evacuation flights from India to fly their citizens out — Germany (10 flights), Canada (6), France (1) and Ireland (1). These special flights started on Wednesday with German nationals flying back to Frankfurt. The charters for Canada and Ireland will see AI taking their passengers to London Heathrow. From Heathrow, Canada and Ireland will make arrangements to fly their passengers onwards home.
“We have been approached by some countries through their embassies in Delhi to operate special charter to flying their citizens back home. We will be operating 18 such flights to the four countries. These flights out of India will be carrying their citizens on the way back to India, the aircraft will not have any cargo or any passenger (ferry flight),” Bansal said.
AI chairman added that the airline has got Chinese nod to operate cargo flights to ferry medical equipment from there to India. “We have got approval to operate Delhi-Shanghai-Delhi on April 4 and 5. We are awaiting their clearance to operate only-cargo flights to Shanghai on April 6, 7, 8 and 9. Delhi-Hong Kong-Delhi cargo flights have also been approved by China. These flights will bring medical equipment,” said Bansal.
From March 26 to April 1, India had seen 85 flights — 62 by Air India Group, 15 by Indian Air Force and 8 by private airlines — being operated within the country for ferrying 76 tonnes of medical equipment and other items essential to fight the corona pandemic.
“On Thursday morning, an aircraft operated from Hindon IAF base (near Delhi) to Let carrying vegetables,” aviation ministry secretary Usha Padhee said.
The Indian DGCA on Wednesday allowed passenger configuration aircraft to operate all-cargo flights. Now the number of these flights will accordingly increase.
“Airlines will be allowed to operate cargo flights where they will carry our essential medical equipment free and their cargo on commercial terms,” said aviation minister H S Puri. International airlines like Emirates and Qatar Airways have also announced operating cargo flights to India.