Lockdown 4.0: With strict rules, aviation sector limps back to normalcy as domestic flights resume

Mumbai: Indian skies opened up for domestic passenger services from Monday after a gap of two months, with Delhi-Pune and Mumbai-Patna flights being among the first to take off, aviation industry sources said.

All scheduled commercial passenger flights have been suspended since March 25 when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the flights will be operated by IndiGo on Monday morning.

While the Delhi-Pune flight is scheduled to depart at 4.45 AM, the Mumbai-Patna flight would depart at 6.45 AM.

Aviation industry sources said the first passenger flight would be 6E643 from Delhi airport and it is likely to be operated by aircraft VT-ITK, which is an A320neo plane of IndiGo.

The sources added the first domestic passenger flight to arrive at Delhi airport on Monday would be from Ahmedabad and it is of SpiceJet.

"The flight SG8194, which would be conducted by B737 model numbered VT-SGQ, would be landing at 7.45 AM at Delhi airport," one of the sources said.

The Mumbai airport's operator MIAL said in a statement, "The first flight departing out of CSMIA (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport ) will be to Patna at 6:45hrs and flight arriving from Lucknow will be the first arrival flight at 8:20hrs both operated by IndiGo."

It was announced last Thursday that one-third of pre-lockdown domestic flights will operate from Monday.

All international scheduled commercial passenger flights remain suspended.

Mumbai Airport earlier on Sunday said that it will resume commercial passenger services on domestic routes from May 25 with 25 departures and arrivals each.

Prior to the suspension of passenger flight services on March 25 in the wake of nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the AAI-GVK group-run airport had been operating over 1,000 daily flights (arrivals and departures), including on international routes.

"As many as 50 departures and arrivals are expected on day one and all flights will be operational from Terminal 2," the Mumbai International Airport Ltd ( MIAL) said in a release.

Earlier, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had allowed airlines to operate one-third of their total domestic flights from each airport.

The initiative to resume services came after the directive issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation as well as the state government giving a nod to recommence domestic flight operations to and from Mumbai, the MIAL said in the release.

Adhering to the new guidelines specified by the government, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA), in the release also urged the passengers above the age of 14 to mandatorily download the Aarogya Setu app for safe travel.

Furthermore, the CSMIA also advised passengers above 80 years as well as expectant mothers and passengers with health issues to restrict travelling, it said.

Arriving passengers will be temperature-screened by the state government and are expected to be in-home quarantine for 14 days, it added.

The airport operator said it has undertaken various steps and put in place standard operating procedures for the safety of its passengers.

It said it will continue to undertake several precautionary measures, including screening of departing passengers, maintaining 2-metre of social distancing, and wearing of masks.

Additionally, the CSMIA has positioned plexiglass at all counters to keep social distancing along with stationing hand sanitisers at all touchpoints, the MIAL said.

Moreover, the CSMIA has also created a separate quarantine centre for symptomatic passengers, said the release.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had on Saturday said she will urge the Centre to postpone the resumption of domestic flight services at the Kolkata and the Bagdogra airports by a few days.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said on Twitter on Sunday that it is "extremely ill-advised" to reopen airports in red zones.

International commercial passenger flight services remain suspended in India.

"Starting tomorrow, there will be limited flights from Mumbai & as per approved one-third schedule from other airports in the state. Limited operations to West Bengal will commence on 28th May 2020," Puri said on Twitter on Sunday night.

A day before the resumption of domestic flights, multiple meetings were held at the Civil Aviation Ministry among various stakeholders as states expressed their reluctance to deal with so many incoming flyers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Therefore, it was decided on Sunday evening that Kolkata and Bagdogra will each handle just 20 flights per day from Thursday, the officials said, adding that these two airports in West Bengal will not handle any flights between Monday and Wednesday.

"It has been a long day of hard negotiations with various state govts to recommence civil aviation operations in the country," said Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Twitter on Sunday night.

"Except Andhra Pradesh which will start on 26/5 & West Bengal on 28/5, domestic flights will recommence across the country from tomorrow (Monday)," he added.

The Hyderabad airport will deal with only 30 domestic flights per day from Monday, the government officials said, adding that 50 per cent of these will be departures and remaining would be arrivals.

There will be no domestic services at the Vijaywada and the Vizag airports on Monday, and they will be handling only 20 per cent of the pre-lockdown flights from Tuesday onwards, the officials said.

"As per the request of the state government, operations in Andhra Pradesh will recommence on a limited scale from 26 May," Puri said.

"For Tamil Nadu, there will be max 25 arrivals in Chennai but there's no limit on the number of departures. For other airports in Tamil Nadu flights will operate as in other parts of the country," he added.

Indian airlines, who had opened their bookings on domestic services 2-3 days ago, will have to cancel a significant number of flights to these cities where the central government curtailed operations on Sunday.

(With PTI Inputs)