Exclusive: Aviation ministry targets July for resuming commercial international flights

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With inquiries growing over the past few days, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has expressed his view on India’s plans to resume international commercial passenger flights.

On Friday, the minister tweeted: “We are continuously monitoring the situation and will consider restarting international flights as soon as situation normalises a bit and poses no danger to our citizens. We will also have to consider that countries, where we intend to fly, are open to incoming foreign citizens.”

Under ‘Unlock 1.0’ guidelines released by the Ministry of Home Affairs on May 30, international flight operations remain suspended till June 30.

In fact, the guidelines stated that the resumption of operations will be discussed in ‘phase 3’ of Unlock 1.0, a timeline for which was not set at the time.

India Today TV has now learnt from highly-placed sources that the Ministry of Civil Aviation is targeting resumption of regular international flights by July.

But Is this possible? Resumption of commercial international flights depends on several factors. To begin with, domestic civil aviation operations, which restarted after a two-month gap on May 25, will have to see an increase in the number of flights being operated.

Currently, the ministry has permitted airlines to operate 1/3rd capacity of the summer schedule, which roughly means 33 per cent of the overall capacity of flights are currently up in the air.

Even then, state governments have imposed restrictions and are curtailing operations, in view of the overall pandemic scenario in their respective states.

Aviation minister Hardeep Puri has indicated that domestic operations will have to touch the 50-60 per cent mark for international flights to become viable.

This is because international flights take off from major metro cities that seem to have the maximum cases of COVID 19, and consequently restricted flight operations.

However, given the number of flights and passengers flying since domestic flights resumed, the ministry is hopeful they will be able to touch the 150,000 daily flyer mark in the next 10 days, which would then roughly account for 50 per cent flight operations.

The footfall at the airports on Friday was 59,291.

It will also depend on states gradually easing lockdown curbs in their respective jurisdictions. Top sources within the Ministry of Civil Aviation have told India Today TV that backchannel talks are on with states like Maharashtra to raise the number of flights from current 25 departures and 25 arrivals.

It may be noted that Maharashtra has capped the number of arrivals and departures due to the high number of cases in the state.

Global developments

As far as international operations go, India will also be watching global developments keenly to know how many countries open up their airspace to allow foreign flights to take off and land.

Authorities in India are hopeful that things will be clearer by mid-June.

Meanwhile, international flights have been operating under the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’, which is in its third leg now, bringing back stranded Indians from around the world.

On Friday, Air India announced it will be flying 75 additional flights to cities in the US and Canada between June 9 and June 30.

Similarly, international airlines from various countries have been evacuating their nationals from India, since the start of the lockdown, and approximately 144,000 stranded foreigners have been flown out of Indian soil till date.

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