COVID-19: Indian Carriers Demand Financial Assistance Package From Govt

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water cannon salute being accorded to the first aircraft at Dimapur Airport. Source: AAI

Indian carriers have once again demanded a financial assistance package from the central government, as the country is in the grip of a second wave of COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public movement are being implemented across various states.

In an important meeting of airline companies with the Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) on Monday, most airline operators demanded a financial assistance package from the government to deal with the second COVID wave, ANI said.

Senior executives of all the airlines met with MoCA secretary and presented the precarious situation of the aviation sector and asked for financial assistance to come out with the situation, as the second wave of COVID reported, an airline`s official told ANI. Last year, airline companies sought financial help from the government, but the government had refused.

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A file photo of two passengers taking a selfie at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport’s Jaya He Museum Carnival in 2018. Source: CSMIA/Twitter

Indian Carriers Facing Enormous Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an enormous impact on the Indian aviation industry, affecting passenger load factor, cargo demand, airport workforce, and revenues. In the meeting, airlines also expressed their concern about the fare cap which was imposed by the regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

“Strict enforcement by the DGCA of the lower fare limit fixed by the government was also discussed as there are many instances of tickets being sold at much cheaper fares,” a source said. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on airline companies due to travel restrictions and a decrease in demand among travellers.

“Reducing capacity from 80 per cent to 60 per cent as bookings have fallen by as much as 50 per cent. No airline was in favour of increasing capacity from 80 per cent to 100 per cent in the pandemic,” a private airline company said.

One low-cost airline has asked the govt to acknowledge the old demand for reduction in Air Turbine Fuel (ATF) and excise tax at least during the pandemic. The government has not yet reached any concrete decision on the said demands.

Earlier, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had informed the Lok Sabha that Indian airlines incurred losses of 16,000 crore in the first nine months of the last fiscal through March.

Airports lost an additional 3,000 crore during the period as COVID-related curbs crimped air travel.

Domestic air traffic fell to about 30 million passengers during April and December 2020 from 108 million passengers a year earlier, Mr. Puri informed the Lok Sabha. He said international traffic plunged to about 5.59 million in the same period from about 52.1 million a year earlier.

India lifted a two-month on domestic air travel on May 25, 2020 with airlines allowed to sell up to 80% of their pre-COVID capacity. A ban, however, remains on international commercial flights, which currently run through April-end. Only dedicated cargo flights and flights under bilateral air bubble pacts with select countries are allowed.

Meal Restrictions

Meanwhile, Indian carriers have been banned from serving meals in flights that are less than two hours. The ban will come into effect from Thursday, April 15. The Ministry of Civil Aviation announced this on Monday, stating that it decided to review the on-board meal services in domestic flights due to “the increasing threat of COVID-19 and its variants”.

Apart from the meal ban, the notification from the ministry specified that all serving cutlery like trays, plates, etc must be of the disposable kind; beverages will have to be served in single-use disposable containers; and crew members will need to wear a fresh set of gloves for each meal/beverage service. This announcement came as India reported nearly 1.70 lakh COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day tally any country has ever recorded since the outbreak of the pandemic.

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