The Centre has allowed partial resumption of domestic passenger flights from May 25, exactly two months after these were suspended owing to the nationwide lockdown. It’s a surprise move as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), while issuing guidelines for Lockdown 4.0, had initially prohibited domestic and international air travel, except for medical and security purposes. On Wednesday, however, the MHA removed domestic commercial flights from the list of activities debarred during the ongoing lockdown that ends on May 31. Even as the Civil Aviation Ministry has released guidelines for airlines, airports and passengers, it will be a challenge for all to adhere to the exacting safety protocol. A major stumbling block — the fears and apprehensions of travellers — would have to be dealt with at the outset.
It’s a race against time for various airport and airline authorities as they must ensure that everything is in place by Monday. A longer window would have been preferable, but the domestic aviation industry has been hit so hard by the Covid lockdown that it will grab this opportunity to put things back on track. A leading Indian credit rating and research agency recently projected revenue losses of Rs 25,000 crore during the ongoing financial year for this industry, which is inextricably linked with the tourism sector and OTAs (online travel agencies).
Air travel is the quickest mode of transport for long distances; amid a pandemic, it’s arguably the safest as well. Still, the industry would have to come up with confidence-building measures to reassure passengers and make them get back on a plane. Physical distancing on board is a prerequisite that ought to necessitate modification of the seating arrangement. No less important is airconditioning and the possibility of airborne transmission of the virus. Regular monitoring of the air flow is essential to providing a safe environment to the flyers as well as the crew. If all stakeholders act responsibly, the restart of domestic air travel could give a much-needed fillip not only to the aviation and allied sectors but also to Indian economy on the whole.
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