Flights take to skies after 2 months, but face air pockets in some states

May 25, 2020

NEW DELHI: The Centre’s plan to restart domestic flights from Monday after a gap of two months owing to the Covid-induced lockdown ran into last-minute turbulence caused by opposition from states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
After much persuasion, Mumbai airport agreed to allow only 50 flights on day one – less than a fourth of what India’s second-busiest airport was to see. Air India has decided to deploy wide-body aircraft on the Delhi-Mumbai route to accommodate as many passengers as possible.
West Bengal said a reduced number of flights would be allowed to operate from Kolkata and Bagdogra from May 28 as the state was suffering the after-effects of the devastating Cyclone Amphan. Vijaywada and Visakhapatnam will allow scheduled flights from May 26. Chennai and Hyderabad are learned to have decided on capping the number of flights.
Late on Sunday, aviation minister H S Puri tweeted: “It has been a long day of hard negotiations with various state governments to recommence civil aviation operations in the country…”

Thousands to be hit due to cancellations
Airlines were asked to submit a majorly truncated schedule to DGCA by 10pm on Sunday. “We will be working all of Sunday night. Once the further truncated schedule (of the one-third that was to resume) is finalised, passengers will need to be informed of flight cancellations and flight-time changes. The restarting could not have been planned in a worse possible way,” said an airline official.
Instead of the 8,216 schedule flights that ply in Indian skies per week (over 1,170 daily), the first few days starting Monday may see close to only half of that frequency at about 600. As a result, thousands of travellers will be left with tickets of cancelled flights and will have to wait till the numbers pick up. With airlines keeping the booking amount to be used for future travel, many will be “forced” to hold the tickets.

Sunday saw aviation secretary P S Kharola in hectic parleys with states for the resumption of at least one-third of flights from Monday and also ensure some uniformity in arrival protocols to reduce confusion among passengers.
While the Centre’s guidelines for arriving domestic travellers require them to self-monitor their health for 14 days, states have been given a free hand to develop their own protocol for quarantine and isolation for incoming passengers. So now, going to different states will be akin to going to different countries and checking the entry protocols of each of them individually.
“After secretary Kharola’s e-meetings with states ended Sunday night and the reduced numbers of flights for Mumbai and delayed start at some other airports was finalised, the changes were communicated to the DGCA. The regulator will then proportionately reduce flights to and from Mumbai. A similar word is expected from Chennai,” Reducing Mumbai flights has hit the expected schedule a lot in terms of mounting flights by crew rostering and aircraft movement,” aviation sources said.
The last-minute flight changes will be communicated to passengers and many stranded people who were hoping to fly on Monday will either be told that their flight is cancelled or that the timing has changed.

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