Maharashtra allows 50 flights to and from Mumbai airport today as domestic air travel resumes; U-turn hours after CM seeks more time


After much speculation about the resumption of domestic flight operations in Maharashtra due to the increasing number of coronavirus cases, the state government has allowed 25 flights to land and 25 flights to take-off from the Mumbai airport today, according to several media reports.

The decision to allow limited take-offs and landings, announced on Sunday by cabinet minister Nawab Malik, came just hours after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said he'd seek more time from the civil aviation ministry to restart domestic flight services from the Mumbai airport as the state COVID-19 count crossed 50,000.

"I have spoken to the chief secretary," Malik, an NCP minister, told The Times of India. "Our decision is that 25 flights to and from Mumbai will start on Monday."

Malik told "this number will be increased gradually."

Malik also took aim at the Centre. "The Modi government makes announcement after announcement without discussing the issue with the state government," Malik told NDTV.

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Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta confirmed the development. "Details are being worked out by the concerned departments and airline firms," Mehta told The Times of India.

Pune and Nagpur will see the resumption of 17 and 4 flights respectively, as per The Times of India report. Arriving passengers will be screened by government agencies and sent to 14-day home quarantine.

Thackeray, in an online briefing earlier, said, "I spoke to civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri today and told him that the Mumbai international airport needs more time to resume its operations. Till the time MIAL (Mumbai International Airport Limited) plans and fine-tunes the airport operations, the aviation ministry should initiate minimum possible domestic flights from Maharashtra from 25 May, which are purely emergent in nature like for international transfer of passengers, medical emergencies, students, and cases on compassionate grounds."

Thackeray said some 13 more international flights till be landing at the Mumbai airport by 7 June. Puri had announced the resumption of domestic flight services from today as part of the Centre's efforts to gradually open air travel that was suspended nearly two months ago due to a lockdown imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

State home minister Anil Deshmukh earlier said it is "extremely ill-advised" to reopen airports in red zone amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is extremely ill-advised to reopen airports in the red zone. Mere thermal scanning of passengers inadequate w/o swabs. Impossible to have autos/cabs/buses ply in current circumstances. Adding positive passenger will add Covid stress to red zone," Deshmukh tweeted on Sunday.

"Getting passengers to come from a green zone to a red one putting them to risk of exposure doesn't make sense. Keeping a busy airport up and running with all COVID-safety measures will need huge staff presence and compound risk in the red zone," the minister added.

The health ministry on Sunday issued guidelines for domestic travel, advising passengers to download the Aarogya Setu application on their mobile devices and asking states to ensure thermal screening at the departure point of airports, railway stations and bus terminals.

Asymptomatic passengers should be permitted to travel after being asked to self-monitor for 14 days, the ministry said.

Dos and Don'ts shall be provided along with tickets to travellers by agencies concerned, said the ministry's guidelines for domestic travel (air/train/inter-state bus travel).

All passengers shall be advised to download the Arogya Setu application on their mobile devices, it said.

With inputs from PTI