MUMBAI: Despite the Centre making it clear that domestic flights across the country would resume from Monday, the Maharashtra government, for all practical purposes, refused any flight in the state from May 25 due to the Covid-19 lockdown, saying it will only consider emergency or transit flights.
The refusal is likely to hit thousands of passengers who have booked tickets on the 1,400-odd domestic departures and arrivals scheduled in the last seven days of May to and from Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad and Nagpur. A state bureaucrat told TOI on Saturday that since the MMR region, Pune and Aurangabad were red zones, it would not be advisable to allow flights until there is normalcy. An airline official said in that case, airlines will have to carry out major rescheduling of operations as several flights are routed via Mumbai, India’s 2nd busiest airport.“We have informed MIAL, which controls Mumbai airport, that unless it fine tunes airport operations, it will not be allowed to initiate domestic flights from Maharashtra from May 25. We will allow flights of purely emergent nature, for international transfer passengers, medical emergencies, students and for cases on compassionate grounds,” the bureaucrat said.
The state government’s decision not to allow flights defies logic. Lakhs and lakhs of migrants have been allowed to travel by bus and train — and rightly so. Flying is far less trying. Airports—and Sahar compares with the best in the world—are more organised. There are fewer passengers than at train and bus stations, and there is greater access control and security. Also, exposure to fellow passengers is limited to a few short hours: A Mumbai-to-Kolkata flight, for instance, takes less than a tenth of the time of a train journey between the two cities, and there’s no need to have food on board. Not just that—if operations remain suspended, airlines might find it difficult to continue supporting the wage bills of their Mumbai staff. The government needs to reconsider its decision. This is the business capital of India. It needs to get back to business.
We have informed MIAL, which controls Mumbai airport, that unless it finetunes airport operations, it will not be allowed to initiate domestic flights from Maharashtra from May 25. We will allow flights of purely emergent nature, for international transfer passengers, medical emergencies, students and for cases on compassionate grounds,” the bureaucrat said.
The state’s nodal officer Saurabh Vijay sent a letter to the civil aviation secretary on Saturday in this regard. “It is not clear,” he stated, “whether MIAL has worked out requirement of staff including ground staff, technical and non-technical, their availability, health conditions/check-up for their fitness level to resume work at airport and daily commute. It is also not clear from which part of the city they will commute and whether it falls in containment zone, which have (sic) total restrictions on movement.”
The letter further stated, “You say 27,500 passengers are expected to commute daily from May 25, but besides this load, there will be a large number of airport and airline staff, their commuting will be a big challenge as public transport and private taxis are off and to start normally at such short notice without proper planning will disrupt lockdown restrictions and passengers will be put to severe inconvenience, besides disrupting the state machinery’s fight against the epidemic.”
Responding to the government’s stand, an aviation industry official said that MIAL (Mumbai International Airport Ltd) was ready to handle domestic flights. “It is the state government’s responsibility to see that passengers are able to reach the airport to board flights and those who land are able to reach their destinations in the city,” the official said.
Mumbai and other red zones in Maharashtra have stringent restrictions in place even in lockdown 4.0 though the Centre has allowed relaxations in this fourth phase even in the red zones.
In his letter, Saurabh Vijay also requested the civil aviation secretary to plan daily operations in detail and furnish information to the state government on the issues raised by it. He also stated that while making requests, “please bear in mind that the local authorities and resources are very much strained due to the existing Covid-19 situation.” “The state government will provide you all possible assistance for smooth start of these operations in a phased manner,” he added.