Govt may allow 75% flight ops, says Hardeep Puri

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As demand for air travel increases steadily, the government is considering allowing airlines to operate at up to 75% of their pre-pandemic capacity, raising it from the current 60%, but the removal of restrictions on international flights depends on a raft of factors including the discovery of a Covid-19 vaccine, civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said on Thursday.

A decision on raising flight capacity will be made over the next seven to 10 days, Puri said at a press conference, as the festive season that’s usually the peak period for air travel approaches.

The civil aviation ministry has allowed limited domestic flight operations up to 60% of pre-Covid-19 capacity. After domestic passenger flights resumed on May 25 following a two-month gap because of the lockdown to curb the contagion, the Centre allowed Indian airlines to operate only 33% of their pre-Covid domestic flights.

On June 26, the ministry increased the capacity to 45% and to 60% on September 2.

Pre-pandemic, Indian airlines used to operate around 3,100 flights a day, according to Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) data. Airlines are currently operating around 1,500 flights per day, according to data until October 8.

“Our internal thinking is that we will watch it for another week or 10 days....If the figures (of passengers travelling) continue to be healthy, we would open domestic civil aviation to 75% of pre-Covid levels. There is no deadline,” Puri said. “But this can happen soon as the domestic numbers are going up...I am confident that by the first quarter next year, we will be able to surpass the pre-Covid numbers.”

“With regard to the number of daily domestic air passengers, the figure on October 2 was 176,000 passengers...by the end of this month, we’ll be at 200,000. Between Diwali and the year’s end, we will reach 300,000,” Puri said.

According to the ministry, around 300,000 to 350,000 passenger travelled on domestic routes before the pandemic.

Puri said a complete resumption of international flights depends on the availability of a vaccine for Covid-19, and hinted that so-called travel bubble arrangements may continue until March-April.

“It is difficult to say (when regular international flights will resume) as there is no country which has completely opened its borders for all. It depends on the availability of a vaccine as countries will feel more confident once a vaccine is there,” the aviation minister said.

“There are basically three issues to consider before resuming regular international flights. One, resuming domestic connectivity... Second, the nature of the virus on which I can’t comment, and the third is international restrictions,” Puri said.

Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended since March 22.

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