Responding to the West Bengal government’s request to curtail flights to the state, the Ministry of Civil Aviation on Saturday asked airlines to suspend flights to Kolkata from Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Chennai and Ahmedabad — all cities with high Covid caseload — between July 6 and July 19.
This is the first time since the resumption of domestic flights on May 25 that a state has decided to completely curtail incoming flight movements to manage the spread of Covid-19 . Earlier, states such as Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Delhi had imposed restrictions on travellers in the form of quarantine and self-isolation norms.
In a letter to Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola dated June 30, state Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha had written, “…l approach you with a request kindly not to schedule any flight to West Bengal from high prevalence places viz. Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Chennai, lndore, Ahmedabad and Surat and to stop movement of flights from these cities to Kolkata or Bagdogra for 2 weeks starting 6 July 2020. I also request you to restrict the number of flights to Kolkata, Bagdogra and Andal from other cities to a frequency of once a week for each airline starting 6 July till 31 July, 2020.”
Though the Ministry, which has been moving in the direction of further reopening of domestic flight movement, requested the state government to rethink its decision, Bengal is learnt to have stuck to its stand.
While Sinha had sought the suspension of flights from Surat and Indore too, the Ministry has only directed the suspension of flights from airports in six cities.
With more than 20,000 confirmed infections, West Bengal has the sixth highest caseload in the country. In the last one week, West Bengal added 5,760 new cases, 4,135 of which were detected in Kolkata and its surrounding areas of Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Paragnas.
According to flight tracking portal flightradar24.com, more than 200 flights have been landing at Kolkata airport each day.
The airports from where flights to Kolkata have been suspended are in states with the highest Covid-19 caseloads in the country, with three of them – Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune – in Maharashtra, which continues to top the Covid count in the country with 1,92,990 cases so far.
Earlier, the Centre had allowed airlines to increase their flight capacity from 30-35 per cent of their pre-Covid seats to 45 per cent.
Delhi-Kolkata and Mumbai-Kolkata are among the top routes in the country in terms of air traffic and, given that Kolkata was not the part of domestic reopening of flights that began on May 25 because of Amphan cyclone, these routes had seen pent-up traffic demand. Airlines such as Vistara had deployed wide-bodied planes in anticipation of the high demand.
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