India will take a decision on resumption of international passenger flights in July if coronavirus behaves in a "predictable manner" and the entire aviation ecosystem and state governments are onboard, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said. The country resumed domestic passenger flights from May 25 after a gap of two months amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Scheduled international passenger flights, however, continue to remain suspended in India. "I am often asked, when can you start international civil aviation? If you leave it to me, and if the ecosystem works, and if we have the predictability in terms of behaviour of the virus, I think in the coming month we should start taking the decision. But those decisions will not be taken by the Indian civil aviation ministry," Puri said.
"Those decisions will be taken by the governments after looking at their domestic situation," he said at a webinar titled 'Reposing the Faith in Flying' organised by the GMR group. "As we have seen recently that there is a major state in south India, after we opened up, they ordered the lockdown back. I have seen this happening in other countries. We are trying to ensure that this does not happen," the minister noted.
The Tamil Nadu government had recently decided to impose lockdown in the capital city of Chennai, starting June 19 for a period of 12 days, in view of rising number of COVD-19 cases.
Puri said the central government is trying to make sure that "when we take steps, they are incremental, and they are predictable, and that we increase the ways of travel domestically and that we move in the direction of opening international travel systematically without endangering and inviting a backlash". "For us to be able to receive passengers on international routes, our states must be ready. We are in a constant dialogue with them," he added.
The aviation minister said a decision regarding resumption of international travel can be taken in the coming months, even earlier, when domestic air traffic would reach 50-55 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 capacity, and other states would be in the position to absorb more number of passengers coming in. "In any case, it is not our call. It is a call where all the stakeholders, including the passengers and the entire ecosystem, are ready," he added.
The Union minister also mentioned that when the country would start international civil aviation, "we must have domestic civil aviation reach a point of maturity". Giving an example of flights coming from the US, he said they land at the airports of our big metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Puri said these big cities may not be in a position to handle large number of people arriving from abroad as "mandatory quarantine capacity may not be there". He also reiterated that the resumption of international travel would depend on easing of entry restrictions by other countries. "Many countries are not allowing nationals other than their own and some other specific categories of people to enter their country," Puri said.
"When you start normal international operations, you will have a summer schedule or a winter schedule, and airlines will be able to take bookings from whoever is coming and no questions will be asked. That situation does not exist now," he added. The minister pointed out that no country in the world is at present allowing unambiguous and unconditional entry of passengers from other countries.
"Every country is insisting on some form of conditionality," he added. "We have got planes (under Vande Bharat Mission) going empty from here to the Gulf. People cannot go because they have stopped the entry of Indian nationals," Puri said.
India started the Vande Bharat Mission on May 6 to help stranded people reach their destinations through international repatriation flights on payment basis. Around 480 flights have brought back more than 90,000 Indians from 52 countries since May 6 under the mission. India also flew out more than 24,000 people on outbound flights under this mission.