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No timeline on resuming international flights as minister says India to take 'incremental steps'

No timeline on resuming international flights as minister says India to take 'incremental steps'

No timeline on resuming international flights as minister says India to take 'incremental steps'
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By Alisha Sachdev  Jun 17, 2020 7:26:56 AM IST (Updated)

Minister for Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday said the government may initiate discussions for resuming international flight operations in the coming months if the current "ecosystem" works, and there is predictability in terms of the behavior of the coronavirus.

Minister for Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday said the government may initiate discussions for resuming international flight operations in the coming months if the current "ecosystem" works, and there is predictability in terms of the behavior of the coronavirus.

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India resumed domestic commercial flight operations from May 25 in a phased manner, but a decision on the resumption of international flights is yet to be announced.
National carrier Air India, however, has been operating repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indian citizens stranded abroad. Five private carriers, too, have started to operate these repatriation flights.
"If the ecosystem works and we have predictability in terms of the behaviour of the virus, we will start making decisions on international flights in the coming months", Puri said in a webinar organised by GMR.
"When we start international civil aviation, we need to have domestic aviation reach a certain point of maturity," he added.
Puri said that he will not put a timeline on international flights at the moment, but the ministry is in constant touch with states and a decision on re-starting international operations will be bilateral and also federal, where all stakeholders are taken into confidence. He said that once domestic flight operations reach 50 percent-55 percent utilization and receiving states can absorb more incoming passengers, restarting international operations can be looked at.
Pointing to Tamil Nadu's decision to disallow flights from Maharashtra, Puri said such situations will impede the expansion of operations. Therefore, "we will have to ensure steps are incremental and we move in the direction of international travel without inviting backlash", he said.
The Minister also responded to criticism that the Government's Vande Bharat Mission is a monopoly designed for the national carrier. "Other international airlines have carried about 200,000 people in over 800 charter flights. This is double the number of flights that Air India has operated during VBM operation", he said and added that the government has invited private carriers to also participate in these flights, some of which have already started.
Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director of SpiceJet, who also participated in the webinar said that the Indian government's policies towards foreign airlines have been too liberal, and are undercutting its own carriers. SpiceJet has been focussed on expanding its air cargo operations in the absence of domestic passenger traffic.
However, SpiceJet does not have widebody aircraft which can be deployed on long-haul routes.
"Indian carriers have to look at wide-body options but it has to be supported by government policies", Singh said.
"We have had 25 percent of our flights flying recently, and the load factor has been 65 percent-70 percent. It will be a slow build-up but not a dead-end", he added.
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