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Coronavirus impact: Govt bans all passenger flights from 25 March

A deserted view of NSCBI Airport as domestic and internationals flights got cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Kolkata (Photo: PTI)Premium
A deserted view of NSCBI Airport as domestic and internationals flights got cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Kolkata (Photo: PTI)

  • All airlines will have to plan operations in such a way so that they are able to land by 23.59 hours on 24 March
  • The aviation and travel sector has been one of the worst hit by the Covid-19 outbreak, which has led to travel restrictions

New Delhi: India will ban passenger flights on all domestic routes from Tuesday midnight in a desperate bid to arrest the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic in the world’s second-most populous nation.

“Domestic scheduled commercial airlines shall cease operations with effect from 25 March," a senior government official said on Monday. Dedicated cargo airlines would be exempted from the suspension, the official said.

The official said all airlines will have to plan operations in such a way so that they are able to land by 23.59 hours on 24 March.

Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said in a circular late Monday that the ban will remain in force until 31 March midnight.

The Union government’s decision follows requests by several states, including Bihar and West Bengal, asking the Centre to suspend flights in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The ongoing pandemic has resulted in significantly reduced global travel demand, accelerated by border closures, travel bans and country lock-downs, which has impacted global businesses adversely.

Globally, over 14,717 people have died due to the deadly virus, while the number of infected crossed 339,645, according to the latest data by Johns Hopkins University.

Many governments, including the US, have implemented a temporary travel ban.

The Indian government has also imposed a temporary ban on foreigners entering the country.

The aviation and travel sector has been one of the worst hit by the Covid-19 outbreak, which has led to travel restrictions. Most Indian airlines have already suspended international operations or reduced it to a bare minimum.

India has also banned all international flights from midnight on Sunday for a week.

The timing and resumption of services is entirely in the control of the government but it will most likely be beyond 31March, CAPA India said in a statement on Monday. “As a result, the entire Indian commercial fleet of 650 planes lies grounded" it said.

According to a survey by industry chamber FICCI titled Impact of Covid-19 on Indian Economy, some domestic airlines have reported a more than a 30% drop in domestic travel this summer, compared with last year, while airfare on popular domestic routes have fallen by 20-25%.

“According to the data available with the ministry of civil aviation, nearly 585 international flights have been cancelled to and from India between 1 February and 6 March because of the outbreak of coronavirus. Cash reserves of airline companies are running low and many are almost at the brink of bankruptcy," the FICCI report said, adding that the industry needs an urgent bailout from the government.

Globally, airlines are likely to cut capacity by 40-60% for the second quarter of 2020 and, in some instances, over 75% year-on-year, according to Moody’s Investors Service. “On a full-year basis, we expect global industry capacity to fall 25% to 35%, assuming the spread of the virus slows by the end of June and, subsequently, passenger demand returns," it added.

While large airlines have adequate liquidity “to manage through a fairly significant short-term disruption through June, and a continuing but more moderate disruption through the third quarter", the rating agency said smaller airlines with limited cash reserves “will be more exposed, and there is potential for some airlines to collapse within a short period without additional support from shareholders and central governments".

The aviation industry lobby group, The International Air Transport Association (IATA), has warned that the Covid-19 outbreak, if not contained, could cost airlines $113 billion.

“IATA now sees 2020 global revenue losses for the passenger business of between $63 billion (in a scenario where Covid-19 is contained in current markets) and $113 billion (in a scenario with a broader spreading of Covid-19)."

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