The Central government has started work to prepare for resumption of commercial domestic flights, something that may happen in a staggered manner over the next one month, senior government and industry officials said. To this effect, government agencies have began laying the groundwork in terms of safety and policy measures required to start flight operations.
The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security issued a circular Wednesday doing away with security personnel stamping boarding passes of flight passengers at airports. “In view of the prevailing situation of COVID-19 pandemic and countermeasures being taken to contain its spread by touch/contact, it has been decided to dispense with the procedure of stamping the passengers’ Boarding Pass…after completion of pre-embarkation security check of the concerned passenger, till further orders,” the circular said.
Additionally, the government has also circulated a set of draft standard operating procedures with various stakeholders including airlines, airports and ground handling companies seeking their views on measures for ensuring social distancing and health safety of passengers and staff. These include downloading of Aarogya Setu app, increasing of passenger reporting time at airports, mandatory web check-in, among other such procedures.
“…suggestions were sought on a draft discussion paper from airlines and airports. The suggestions have now been received. The final SOP is yet to be issued,” a government spokesperson for the Ministry of Civil Aviation, said.
A senior official said that while the civil aviation ministry was awaiting a nod from Ministry of Home Affairs before allowing airlines to take bookings for scheduled commercial flights, the Centre was also in discussions with various state governments considering it was important for states to be on board with the plan.
“Initially, nod for flights may be given for some of the green zone districts but most of the major traffic centres are still in red or orange zones, and for that it is essential that we have state governments on board,” the official said.
The official also alluded to the possibility that initially it may just be Air India that will be allowed to start domestic repatriation flights on the lines of the international Vande Bharat mission. In the second phase of this mission, Air India will fly around 30,000 passengers from 31 countries. Some of the flights under this mission also connect airports within the country such as Delhi-Varanasi, Delhi-Bengaluru, Mumbai-Kochi, etc. However, these flights are only for passengers arriving from international stations and bookings have not been opened for domestic passengers.
An executive at a low-cost airline said that even though the carriers have been running operations for cargo flights in passenger aircraft, the size of the operation has been scaled down to unprecedented levels and the carriers might require some time to prepare for commercial passenger operations. “We have been told by the government that we might get 10 days to take bookings and prepare technically, and are hopeful for some clarity once the guidelines for Lockdown 4.0 are released,” the executive said, on condition of anonymity.
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