Domestic flights to be suspended
The Centre has decided to stop all domestic flights from midnight on Tuesday till March 31 after chief minister Mamata Banerjee advocated such a step to check the spread of the coronavirus.
“The operations of domestic schedule commercial airlines shall cease operations effective from the midnight, that is, 23.59 hours IST on March 24,” the civil aviation ministry said in a statement. The ban will be in place till 11.59pm on March 31.
The ban will not extend to cargo flights in order to ensure the rapid movement of food, civil supplies and medicines across the country.
The move came hours after Mamata Banerjee wrote to the Prime Minister, urging him to stop all passenger flights to the city. Mamata had expressed serious concern that the Centre was still allowing people to fly between cities, exacerbating the risk of community transmission of the coronavirus.
She said Bengal had taken proactive measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We have stopped all inter-state public transport and have reduced intra-state public transport to a bare minimum. The railways have also stopped all trains and metro services,” she said in her letter.
“However, we are seriously concerned that the government of India is still allowing operation of flights causing a huge breach of shutdown and quarantine protocol with no arrangements of social distancing that we are so painfully managing in the state,” she said.
The chief minister urged the Prime Minister to issue “necessary instruction to stop all flights coming to West Bengal with immediate effect so that the source of infection spreading is effectively contained and the lockdown in the state is implemented in true letter and spirit”.
Earlier in the day, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had issued a circular advising airlines and airport operators to adopt a string of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Airlines were asked to ensure spacing of at least 1 metre between passengers at check-in counters and availability of adequate staff to guide passengers at check-in counters and during security checks.
Passengers were advised to follow social distancing protocol in the waiting area by keeping a seat vacant between two flyers, avoid bunching during boarding, use sanitisers before entering an aircraft, and ensure that there was an empty seat between passengers during a flight.
India had earlier suspended all international flights into the country.
Airlines have already grounded about 40 per cent of their fleet. IndiGo, GoAir and SpiceJet had announced pay cuts and layoffs and had withdrawn price discounts to deter senior citizens and other vulnerable groups from flying while trying to put a lid on their costs.
Some reports indicated that the country is planning a rescue package worth as much as $1.6 billion for the aviation sector.
Advisory firm CAPA India had estimated losses at about $600 million, just for the first three months of the year. The losses will mount now that there is a complete ban on domestic flights for an unspecified period.
Governments all over the world are trying to rescue airlines that have been forced to park planes and cut jobs as the virus puts the brakes on travel.
Airlines may need a bailout of more than $200 billion, the International Air Transport Association has estimated.