Hitches cast a cloud on domestic flights taking to skies tomorrow

Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, which have been witnessing a spike in COVID-19 cases, are not ready to restart passenger flight services

Over 3,000 cases have so far been recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Photo: iStock

The central government’s grand plan to re-launch domestic flights from Monday (May 25) has run into serious trouble with a few states either showing reluctance to restart flight services or imposing strict quarantine guidelines for arriving passengers.

While the Tamil Nadu government has made a two-day quarantine must for passengers arriving at state airports, the West Bengal and Maharashtra governments have shown reluctance in re-starting air travel.

TN’s quarantine norms

The Tamil Nadu government has emphasised that a minimum of two days of quarantine is a must for passengers arriving at state airports like Chennai, Tiruchi and Coimbatore. All such passengers will be tested for COVID-19 and those testing positive have to undergo 14 days of quarantine. Those testing negative will be allowed to self-quarantine at home, the government has said.

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The cost of quarantine has to be borne by the passengers, officials of the central government have been informed.

The Tamil Nadu government also wants passengers to fill up declaration forms to undergo quarantine and COVID-19 test as per its rules. It being said that these conditions will deter passengers from flying to Chennai and others airports in Tamil Nadu as most of them will be wary of quarantine.

Tamil Nadu, has recorded the second highest number (15,512) of COVID cases.

Maharashtra, West Bengal drag feet

With Maharashtra and West Bengal government also showing reluctance in allowing domestic flights, the much-expected re-launch of air transport within the country is facing mounting challenges.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday (May 24) sought more time from the civil aviation ministry for restarting of operations at the Mumbai international airport.

He also said that minimum possible domestic flights from Maharashtra be initiated from Monday.

The Maharashtra government on Saturday (May 23) had said they had not yet amended the lockdown order issued on May 19 allowing the operation of special flights only, indicating that the state was not ready to resume domestic flight services yet. Maharashtra has reported the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases (47,190) in the country so far.

Taking to Twitter, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said, “It’s extremely ill-advised to reopen airports in red zones. Mere thermal scanning of passengers (is) inadequate w/o swabs.”

“(It is) Impossible to have autos/cabs/buses ply in current circumstances. Adding positive passenger(s) will add COVID stress to red zones,” he added.

Meanwhile, the West Bengal government, which has been dealing with not only the coronavirus outbreak but also the damage caused due to cyclone Amphan, cited the latter as the reason behind their request to not resume flight services in Kolkata until May 31.

West Bengal is of the opinion that no flights should operate to Kolkata and other airports in West Bengal like Bagdogra as Cyclone Amphan has left the state crippled.

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A review meeting has been called to iron out the glitches and work out a smooth system for flight connectivity to all parts of the country. Maharashtra is also wary of the busy Mumbai airport opening up for domestic flights as coronavirus cases are still rising in the city and its suburbs, alarming the state health department. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Planiswami had taken the lead on this issue by requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a video conference on May 11, not to allow domestic flights into Tamil Nadu till May 31. He cited lack of institutional quarantine facilities to handle the large number of passengers who might arrive at Chennai and other airports of the State. Palaniswami followed it up with a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on May 22.

Airlines left confused

The lack of clarity with respect to Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal has left airlines in a state of confusion and they are eagerly waiting for final word from the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Airports Authority of India. Puri had announced last week that domestic flights will resume from May 25 and one-third of the capacity allocated for the 2020 summer schedule will be operated. While operations are to be expanded in a staggered manner, many states feel that the COVID-19 situation has not left them ready for handling domestic flights now. Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are among the worst hit due to the spread of COVID-19 and West Bengal has been battered by the Amphan cyclone.

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If quarantine measures are not strictly implemented, spread of the virus may remain uncontained and infrastructure as well as manpower to do so is lacking in many states now.

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