Centre issues guidelines requiring passengers to reach the airport at least two hours prior to departure and wear a face mask throughout the journey
India’s airlines will resume operations from Monday, including at coronavirus hotspots of Delhi and Mumbai, which host the country’s busiest airports, likely complicating their return to normalcy after a two-month closure.
Capacity utilization will be restricted to a third of the approved summer schedule and fares will be capped till 24 August, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters on Thursday.
The aviation ministry issued detailed guidelines for passengers, airlines, airport operators and other agencies that would transform the flying experience as the focus will now be on ensuring physical distance between passengers and minimizing contagion through contact and through frequently touched surfaces.
There will be no in-flight meal services for passengers who will be required to wear a face mask and reach the airport at least two hours prior to departure. Only those with a green status on Aarogya Setu app will be allowed to board.
However, airlines won’t have to keep the middle seat vacant and, instead, will need to rigorously disinfect the aircraft after each flight to eliminate any risk of contagion.
The resumption of flights will somewhat help ease the financial burden on airlines who had to bear high fixed costs amid nearly zero revenues during the lockdown.
Economists have predicted a severe contraction in India’s economy this fiscal, and airlines will be among the worst-hit as people will be reluctant to travel until there’s a significant decrease in India’s coronavirus caseload or a vaccine or cure is available for the respiratory infection.
“I am fully confident, once the pandemic is over, the sector will be back on a robust growth path. Our ambition is to gradually take it to the No.1 market in the world," Puri said.
A pickup in demand will be crucial for airlines to financially recover, said Kinjal Shah, vice-president at rating agency Icra Ltd. Fear among the public about getting infected will have a dampening effect on demand, he said.
Icra said in a report this month that the Indian aviation industry will see a 44% revenue contraction in FY21. Profitability will take a hit because of lower revenues and high fixed costs, the report said.
Puri said the decision to open up domestic air travel was based on low fatality rate of coronavirus infections in India, rather than the number of infections.
“For a country of 1.3 billion people, we are testing more than 100,000 people a day. The 3% fatality in India is one of the lowest figures. Out of 3% fatalities, 85% or so had pre-existing conditions or co-morbidities. It was essential for us to have a lockdown and it is equally important that at some point in time, you open up…I think the time has come for us to open up," Puri said.
Passengers have to brace for slow movement at the airport. “In the initial stage, passengers would be entitled to carry a maximum of one hand baggage and one checked-in baggage as per the specifications by the airline of his travel," the guidelines issued by the ministry said.