“Flight operations will resume from all major Indian airports, including ones located at tier one cities,” said a government official, under the condition of anonymity.
Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri had earlier on Wednesday tweeted that flight operation will resume in a calibrated manner from 25 May.
All airports and airlines have been informed to be ready to recommence operations, the minister said on twitter adding that standard operating procedures (SOPs) for passenger movement are being separately issued by the ministry of civil aviation.
However, the minister didn’t mention the names of airports, which will operate flights during initial stages, after the resumption of domestic flight operations.
Hardeep Singh Puri had in an interview to a magazine, earlier in May, stated that the government couldn’t limit flight operations only between green zones, which had limited number of covid-19 cases. Most tier one cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, and others fall under the red zone with high number of covid-19 cases.
India suspended all flights since 25 March when the government first imposed a nationwide lockdown to contain covid-19. The lockdown has since been extended thrice, every fortnight, from the initial announcement date. The latest and fourth phase will run till 31 May.
“It is a positive news,” said said Kapil Kaul, South Asia CEO of CAPA-Centre for Aviation, adding that resumption of domestic flight operations come at a time when there is significant escalation in covid-19 infections in the country.
“So the real test begins (now). Expect modest resumption (in flight services),” Kaul added.
Spokespersons of airlines like IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara, GoAir, and Air India were not immediately available for comments.
“We are awaiting full clarity from MoCA (ministry of civil aviation) with regards to this,” said an AirAsia India spokesperson.
Many airline officials learned about the resumption of domestic flight services from minister’s tweet. However, airlines want the government to allow operations between bigger cities, many of which have huge number of covid-19 positive cases.
“We found out about the resumption of domestic air services from the minster’s tweet as we haven’t been officially informed by the ministry yet,” said a senior official with a no-frill carrier.
“If airlines are only allowed to operate between smaller towns, and not major tier I cities, huge losses could be expected,” the official added requesting anonymity.
On Wednesday, the Union home ministry in an order also amended the lockdown guidelines, which had earlier prevented air travel. The ministry has now deleted “domestic air travel of passengers” from the list of prohibited activities.
Recently, Indian carriers have reopened bookings for passenger flights from 1 June even before the government announced its plans to resume flight services from 25 May. Tickets between trunk routes like New Delhi-Mumbai, Kolkata-Mumbai, New Delhi-Bangalore, are put up for sale on airlines websites and online travel websites. However, airlines and online travel agents were yet to put up flight tickets on sale for travel between 25-31 May on their respective platforms on Wednesday evening.
The grounding of operations due to covid-19 induced lockdown hurt airlines dearly. The Indian aviation industry may require funding of up to ₹35,000 crore till 2022-2023 as profitability will take a hit due to sharp fall in revenues and higher fixed costs during lockdown period, credit rating agency, ICRA said last week,
Indian carriers are estimated to report a 44% decline in revenue in 2020-21, as compared to the previous year, while the industry’s net debt may rise to ₹46,500 crore by 2021-22, ICRA added.
“It’s a positive step much awaited by airlines and the OTAs – we look forward to the detailed SOPs and guidelines. The industry now needs to collaborate and focus on advertising all the confidence building measures that will reassure travelers to get back on a plane,” said Aloke Bajpai, chief executive and co-founder, ixigo.
“Reopening domestic flights will give a big boost to our economy and kickstart the recovery of the travel industry which was the most affected during the lockdown,” Bajpai added.