India to resume domestic flights, plans 64 repatriation flights

The Indian aviation industry is planning to resume operations slowly and steadily, with domestic flight operations in the country likely to resume within a week.

Air India Boeing 787 dreamliner. Photo by Ervin Eslami | AeroNewsX

In an interview with Indian media outlet, e-Agenda Aaj Tak, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said: "We are planning to start domestic flight operations even before May 15. My effort will be to try and move in the direction of starting it very soon. I can’t put a date on it because when you are planning evacuation operations, you need the co-operation of the state governments. In order to open up domestic civil aviation, I need the domestic infrastructure in place.”

The aviation ministry plans to resume flight operations between cities which fall under Green Zone (i.e. both the arrival and departure city is marked as a city which hasn’t had any COVID-19 cases for 2 or more weeks). Hardeep Puri also said that any losses incurred by the aviation industry due to COVID-19 and lockdown will be absorbed by the early resumption of economic activity.

When asked about whether the Indian Government is planning for a bail-out package for the airlines he replied: "I won't call it bailout package. We have agreed to some demands that are legitimate such as a reduction in tax on aviation turbine fuel. I believe that we need to rationalise this. I have taken up many such demands with the Ministry of External Affairs. Our attempt is to help different industries as much as possible. However, the prioritisation will be on helping migrant and daily wage labourers. The finance ministry is working on this."

To bring back citizens who are stranded in various countries across the globe, the Indian aviation ministry has planned to 64 Air India reptriation flights which will help 15,000 Indians stranded abroad. The ministry has said that other private airlines can join start repatriation flights post May 13th. The initial repatriation flights will be operated by Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express to 12 countries such as the UK, the UAE, the USA, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

These flights will be charged and the prices might be slightly higher than usual as the airline has to fly the outbound flight from India empty. To give you an idea of the prices, a London-Delhi flight will cost Rs 50,000 (roughly $661) and a Dhaka-Delhi flight Rs 12,000 (roughly $160).

With almost 25,000 Indians in USA registering to get onboard this repatriation flight, Indian Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu said they would operate a total of 7 flights.

"So, we have a total of 25,000 people who have registered in the first week, we are going to take seven flights, and this will be a continuous work in progress, depending upon how the requirements come where the people wish to go in India, and what the local situation is allowing, both medically, as well as connections, and on that basis, we will continue further after the first week." The passengers for the first week of flights will be selected randomly.

Meanwhile, 5 of the 77 Air India pilots who volunteered to operate cargo flights between Guangzhou and Delhi carrying medical supplies and equipment in April, have tested positive for COVID-19.

India’s biggest airline, Indigo, which recently had rolled back its decision to cut salaries for its employees, has said that it is left with no other option and has to start pay cuts for its employees.

It has announced pay cuts ranging between 5 and 25 percent, in addition to its leave-without-pay program for May, June and July, for senior employees.

In an official mail, IndiGo’s CEO Ronojoy Dutta told employees: "While we had paid employee salaries in full for the months of March and April, I am afraid that we are left with no option but to implement the originally announced pay-cuts from the month of May 2020." Dutta also clarified in a follow up email to its employees on 19 March saying that it is planning to run this pay-cut through the year 2020-2021. "I am personally taking a 25 percent pay cut, SVPs (senior vice presidents) and above are taking 20 percent, VPs (vice presidents) and cockpit crew are taking a 15 percent pay cut, AVPs (assistant vice presidents), Bands D along with cabin crew will take 10 percent and Band Cs five percent."

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