It would be premature to comment on how soon airlines will be allowed to operate domestic flights in a full-fledged manner, Puri said
The government does not plan on keeping the middle seat vacant on domestic flights, the minister stated
New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has said that civil aviation operations will only resume if the results from the initial phase of calibrated resumption of domestic flights is encouraging. Addressing the media at a press conference on Thursday, Puri said that it would be premature to comment on how soon airlines will be allowed to operate domestic flights in a full-fledged manner. The statement comes a day after the government announced the resumption of ‘calibrated’ civil aviation operations from May 25.
“I can’t comment on how soon civil operation services will be resumed fully. I think, for now, we should let the process begin, and wait and watch how it goes and address the new issues that arise out of it. If we feel we have the comfort level, we will ramp it up by 10 percent, 15 percent, and so on,” said Puri.
Govt moving towards ensuring viability of the entire aviation sector: Puri
On being asked if the decline in global crude oil prices would result in cheaper ATF (Aviation Turbine Fuel) for aircraft, the minister said that the issue of ATF pricing, along with rationalisation of the tax structure, is on to priority for his ministry. “Around 30-35 percent of the operating costs of airlines can be attributed to air turbine fuel. I also believe that the tax structure should be rationalised to bring down costs. And we have announced a number of reforms in the past few days. For example, we have announced our decision to privatise more airports, we are looking to optimise use of air space for flights, and we have tried to give a fillip to the MRO industry by bringing down GST. As we go on, we would like to ensure the viability of the entire sector,” he said.
The middle-seat situation: No plan to keep them empty on domestic flights
While stating that the government does not plan on keeping the middle seat vacant on domestic flights, Puri said, “Even if we do keep the middle seat empty on flights, the requirement for social distancing is not met. So, nowhere in the world has the option of keeping the middle seat vacant been seriously pursued.”
“Based on our experience from Vande Bharat Mission, I can say with responsibility that the practice of keeping the middle seat not vacant has worked because we have taken other corresponding preventive measures. We disinfect the aircraft after each flight, we test passengers for basic symptoms through thermal screening, passengers have been asked to wear masks before boarding, the crew wears protective gear etc. So, whatever precaution can be taken will be taken,” he remarked.
He added that if the middle seat is vacant, airlines would not be able to operate financially. “The cost burden will be passed on to the consumer. It stands to reason that the people who will travel in domestic sector will be people who will take a conscious decision that they are fit to travel,” he said.