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Coronavirus outbreak: Rs 1 lakh to return home! No free evacuation for stranded citizens

Air India cannot afford to bring back passengers for free at a time when revenues have slumped due to coronavirus lockdown

twitter-logoManu Kaushik | May 5, 2020 | Updated 18:54 IST
Coronavirus outbreak: Rs 1 lakh to return home! No free evacuation for stranded citizens
Coronavirus lockdown: Air India will conduct all evacuation flights in first phase

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Indians to be evacuated from UAE, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the US, Singapore, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain
  • Government will charge money from passengers on the basis of flight hours
  • Government has received interest from about 1,9 lakh people willing to come back, but numbers can rise to 4 lakh
  • Not charging for the tickets would strain an already financially weak Air India even further

The government will charge up to Rs 1 lakh for evacuation of stranded Indians from foreign countries. The cost will be decided on the basis of flight hours. For instance, a London to Mumbai flight will cost Rs 50,000 per passenger; the Delhi to Dhaka flight will cost Rs 12,000. Flights from Chicago to India would be Rs 1,00,000 per passenger. In the first phase, Air India will conduct all evacuation flights but as the numbers grow, private airlines will also be allowed to conduct such flights.

Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri today said that the money charged from passengers would be lower than the cost of carrying these passengers. He added that the Air India is already receiving government subsidies to stay afloat, and hence it would strain the national carrier further if these passengers are subsidised by the government.

"I have to go to finance minister every month to seek Rs 500-600 crore of financial package for Air India," the minister said. Puri said these flights are conducted on the basis on requests received from potential passengers who are willing to pay. If these evacuation flights are kept free, then people who can afford to pay will also unintentionally benefit.

Puri said government has received interest from about 1,90,000 people who are willing to come back to the country. But Puri added that the numbers would be much higher at around 4,00,000. In the first phase, between May 7 and May 13, the government has planned 64 flights from different Indian cities to 12 countries like UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the US, Singapore, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Malaysia, Kuwait and Oman.

"A comprehensive plan has been drawn out for distressed citizens stranded in foreign countries. These include people whose visas have run out or they are deported or they went to (foreign) countries just before the lockdown. This is a special mission. All passengers will be screened on arrival, and will be subjected to 14-day quarantine period. On the aircraft, all the protective measures will be taken. It's going to be paid quarantine services but the final decision will be taken by the state governments," the minister said.  

Before launching this evacuation service, the ministry has prepared a detailed plan that involves arrangements with different authorities such as Airports Authority of India (AAI). On Tuesday, the AAI chairman Arvind Singh will be hosting a video-conference with state airports, ministry of external affairs officials, and state health authorities.

Indian civil aviation ministry is following the footsteps of many other countries who have conducted evacuation flights for their nationals in the recent past. When the nationwide lockdown was ordered on March 25, the ministry had suspended civil aviation operations on both international and domestic segments. Despite a lot of enthusiasm, the minister said, that he has repeatedly maintained that the decision to resume civil aviation operations in the country still remains to be taken. "Normal domestic and international will continue to remain suspended till May 17," Puri said.

Also Read: Coronavirus lockdown 3.0: India sees biggest jump with 3,900 new cases, 195 deaths in 24 hours

Also Read: Indian retail sector lost Rs 5.5 lakh crore in 40 days of lockdown: CAIT

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