Even as the Centre hinted at a resumption of almost all international commercial passenger flights before August-September, officials in the Civil Aviation Ministry have alluded to the possibility of the rise in number of COVID-19 cases in India acting as a hindrance in the country’s plan to allow overseas flight operations.
On Saturday, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that India will try to restart a good percentage of international passenger flights before August or September, or even ahead of that.
“I am fully hopeful that before August or September, we will try to start a good percentage of international civil aviation operations, if not complete international operations,” Puri said during a Facebook Live session. “I can’t put a date on it (restarting international flights). But if somebody says can it be done by August or September, my response is why not earlier depending on what is the situation,” he said.
The government had banned all international flights from March 23.
Govts world over looking to prevent second wave
International travel is considered to be one of the chief sources of the virus spread and given that many countries are still working on flattening the curve of number of Covid-19-positive cases, restriction on international travel is among the biggest tools at the disposal of governments to contain the outbreak, or to prevent a second wave. Given this, governments are expected to exercise extreme caution while opening up their borders for non-essential travel.
A senior government official, on condition of anonymity, said that the Civil Aviation Ministry has been monitoring the situation in countries like the US, the UK, Italy, the UAE, Singapore, Thailand, etc to assess whether it will be safe to resume commercial operations to these destinations.
A number of European countries including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, etc are likely to begin relaxation of travel restrictions next month, but some nations like Canada are still adhering to strict arrival protocols. Singapore, which banned short-term visit and transit passengers, is also expected to “gradually” lift the restrictions on transiting passengers from next month.
“With number of cases spiking in India, we are also considering the possibility that some of these countries may not allow regular flights from India. But from our end, we will exercise the highest caution,” the official said, adding that the Ministry was also taking lessons from the Vande Bharat repatriation mission.
The official said that a number of factors needed to be taken into account, including whether it will be safe for airline crew to be in layover at a hotel in an overseas destination and whether it will be safe to bring passengers in large numbers from those locations to India.
In the third phase of the Vande Bharat mission, which will commence from June 13, the government has also roped in private airlines in addition to Air India to fly Indian citizens wanting to come back to India. In the second phase, which started on May 16, around 32,000 citizens are expected to be flown back on more than 160 flights from 47 countries.
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