Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 2
India’s national carrier Air India has entered into contracts with four countries, Germany, Canada, France and Ireland, to operate 18 special charter flights to help citizens of these nations currently stranded in India due to the lockdown, to return home.
This was informed by the airline’s chairman and managing director Rajiv Bansal, who was also present during a press briefing conducted by Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri through video conferencing.
The airline has also been allowed to run cargo flights to carry consignments from Hong Kong and Shanghai to India, it was told.
“I am happy to announce that an hour before, we got the approval for launching the freighter operations to Shanghai from Delhi for two dates –April 4 and 5. We have applied for subsequent dates also for 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th. We hope to get those approvals also within a day,” said Bansal.
Puri, while answering questions sent to him through email, said, airlines can take domestic bookings for dates after April, but this will be subject to the government’s decision on extending the current lockdown, which has been implemented to contain the spread of contagious COVID-19 virus.
The minister, however, clarified that any international flights to evacuate Indians stranded abroad will operate only after April 14, when the current lockdown would be lifted.
“We can start resumption of international flights, case by case basis, after that (lockdown is revoked),” the minister said, as flights can start operation in a calibrated manner.
The minister also said that the airlines and airports are working in innovative ways whether it is about handling thousands of passengers at airports before lockdown or transporting cargo material during lockdown.
Aviation regulator DGCA barred all scheduled international and domestic passenger aircraft till April 14 after the announcement of lockdown
“It is all up to the airlines. Airlines should judge the situation. If passengers make bookings and lockdown ends by mid-April, then those bookings will be honoured. If there is a situation of lockdown extension, then the airlines will have similar arrangement as they had for bookings made till April 14,” aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said.
In another development, sources claimed that Air India has suspended the contracts of nearly 200 pilots, who were recruited post-retirement.
Sources said that the move was initiated as all domestic and international commercial passenger flights have been suspended till April 14.
The minister on his part indicated that there could be a possible delay in the divestment of the national carrier Air India Ltd.
“The Air India divestment process is ongoing, we will revisit it when other pressing issues are resolved,” he said.
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