A day before domestic flights are set to resume across the country, there is still confusion about the rules and readiness in states. Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu – home to some of the country’s busiest airports in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai – have red-flagged the centre’s plan to restart passenger flights two months after a shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Maharashtra government on Saturday said the state had not yet amended its May 19 lockdown order which allowed only special flights, indicating that the state – with the highest number of COVID-19 cases – is not too keen on accepting an influx of people.
“It’s extremely ill-advised to reopen airports in red zone…” Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted.
Tamil Nadu, with the second-highest number of cases, too has raised similar concerns, requesting the Civil Aviation Ministry to delay the plans till May 31.
The West Bengal government has cited the devastation unleashed by Cyclone Amphan to request the flights to Kolkata be held off till at least May 30. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she will write to the centre to send flights to the far smaller Bagdogra airport in North Bengal till then.
While the powers of resuming air travel lie with the centre, states still get a say in accepting passengers – leading to a peculiar possibility where even if planes land, people on board may not be allowed to get off the plane and exit through the airport.
Even if the states go along with the plan, questions remain about transport from the airports. In places like Mumbai, where a ban on public transit and taxis is still in force, passengers may face problems in reaching their homes from the airport.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Saturday admitted that a number of states have expressed reservations with the plan to start flights on Monday even as he suggested that India will try to restart some international passenger flights as early as June.
While most states are ready, Mr Puri said a few states have talked to his “senior colleagues (ministers) and questioned the necessity of restarting domestic flights so soon”. “They said the centre should delay it further by 2-3 days. So, they (ministers) asked the states to send the concerns in writing. But the states did not,” he said.
“This will keep going on. When we are dealing with a situation like this, we should expect that there would be some hesitation. But it is our (centre’s) responsibility and we should make efforts to make those concerns,” Mr Puri added.
Meanwhile, passenger airlines IndiGo, SpiceJet, AirAsia India and Vistara have started taking bookings for flights starting Monday but budget carrier GoAir said it was awaiting clarification on rules for resuming services.
“GoAir awaits clarity on the readiness of the respective states and their airports with regard to acceptance of flights, or the conditions applicable to passengers entering the respective states,” it said.
“Without clarity on these conditions, GoAir does not wish to inconvenience its passengers by putting on sale flights immediately post May 25 which they may book, that will not be permitted to operate… On receiving clarity GoAir will open its site for bookings post May 25 up to May 31 as and when and where appropriate,” the company said in a statement.
All scheduled commercial passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 25 when the central government imposed a lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.