Puri hints at international flights by mid-June

 thehindu.com  05/23/2020 13:31:14  3

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Saturday that commercial international flight operations could start as early as the middle of June if the situation improves and the virus behaves in a predictable manner.

Explained |How is India containing COVID-19?

He said the Centre was in touch with State governments to solve the problems faced by passengers, who are also taxpayers, in reaching airports and said keeping the lockdown in continuation is not the answer.

He said India went into a lockdown straight and revealed that in one of the meetings, he had argued that if the lockdown is going to come into effect on day X, I need two-day notice for the U.S. so that Air India planes could come back.

Ambitious goal

As an optimist, I would say why wait till August or September; if situation eases or improves, if the virus behave in a predictable manner, we get used to the idea to co-exist with the virus and make arrangements&let say we have an ambitious goal, why not start middle of June, end- June or July? I know you will say MHA lockdown is till May 31¬hing is written in stone&we are starting the domestic flights from May 25, we are prepared, the Minister said.

In a live chat on social media platform Facebook, Mr. Puri said pricing of tickets is a commercial matter between airline and the consumer and the governments role was limited to issuing advisories.

He said airlines have to carry on with minimum economic viability and as he keeps getting suggestions and complaints on the issue, he asked a Member of Parliament in a lighter vein whether the airline operation should be handed over to the Delhi langar society.

Air India requires 600 crore cash infusion every month and India was currently running Vande Bharat flights to evacuate stranded passengers from 50 countries. He said if private airlines are used for the Vande Bharat mission, then the price of tickets will be capped.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, all domestic and international flights were suspended on March 23, a day before the first phase of lockdown was imposed.

Also read: Coronavirus lockdown | Flights to resume if States agree, says Civil Aviation Minister

Mr. Puri said 33% of domestic flights will start operating from May 25 and a meeting was underway with State governments to decide the quarantine process. Some States have insisted on mandatory 14-day institutional quarantines for all incoming domestic passengers.

Testing protocol

On being asked on the need for testing everyone for COVID-19 before they are allowed to fly, Mr. Puri said it was not a practical solution.

If you have an Aarogya Setu app and you are clear, do you want another test? India is conducting around 1 lakh per day&if you do not have any symptoms or did not come in contact with a COVID-19 positive person then what is the use of test? The test result will come in 7 hours&you take the test and wait for the result and then wait for another two hours before the boarding? asked Mr. Puri. He said the Aarogya Setu app was preferable but airlines have not made it mandatory.

Watch | How does the Aarogya Setu app work?

If you check several boxes, can give a self declaration&Why will the State want to quarantine you after these facts. It is a new situation, States will get used to it. Within next day or two we will have clarity, the Minister said.

He said food will not be allowed on domestic flights and that virus could come on the paper.

All domestic sectors are short duration from 40 minutes upto to 3 hours, have a good meal at home and then come. Water will be available at the point of entry and in the jacket of your seat, he said.

On the one-year-valid visas for outbound passengers, Mr Puri said the government was not the one prescribing it. As long the visa is valid at the point of entry&.we are trying to avoid a situation that the passenger is deported&.democracies have this great ability. A visa doesnt mean that it gives you unrestricted rights&.recently four students with valid visas who wanted to board a flight to the U.S. were stopped as the airline was informed that all college and institutions were shut over there, he said.

On being asked, why most flights under Vande Bharat were destined for Kerala and not other States like Andhra Pradesh or Telengana, Mr. Puri said State governments will have to take the lead and some State governments were more proactive than others.

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