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Indian Aircraft Could Gradually Return to International Skies Soon

An Air India Boeing 787-8. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

A month after resuming domestic travel, the Indian government expects that domestic travel numbers will reach 150,000 daily travelers before mid-July and believes traffic may reach full capacity by the end of 2020.

“We started with 30,000 passengers on May 25 and since then have had a maximum of 72,000 domestic passengers on a day. I expect to reach half of the pre-corona level of 150,000-160,000 domestic travelers before mid-July,” Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in a statement.

Air traffic in the country was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 crisis. Daily passenger volume was consistently more than 300,000 in the weeks leading up to the onset of the pandemic

The Indian government introduced price limits as domestic travel resumed. The airfare is based on flight duration, and the pricing system was valid for three months. However, the government has revealed the price controls could be extended.

In the meantime, international travel remains suspended except for the nation’s repatriation program. Air India, the national carrier has played a key role with Indigo also joining the program recently. The government is considering making a “bilateral bubble arrangement” with other countries. Agreements could be reached as soon as next month, allowing citizens to go to some specific destinations, but the government hasn’t provided more details.

Earlier, Union Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola mentioned that international travel could be opened only in safe conditions. Also, he talked specifically about the North American markets stating, “There is a significant amount of traffic between India and the North American continent. We may think of opening flights on a case-to-case basis.”

Separately, the government has recently been trying to sell its stake in Air India, but the process has slowed down during the pandemic. Puri is optimistic about the struggling airline, believing Air India is a “first-class asset.”

In response to the drastic drop in travel demand, Air India has introduced a “shorter working week scheme” to its permanent staff. Many employees are currently working for three days a week at a 40% salary reduction, a plan which is aimed at improving the airline’s cash flow as it works to survive a period with depressed ticket sales and still relatively high fixed costs.

“The permanent employee who opts for such a scheme can avail this for a period of one year,” the airline said when it announced the program.

Meanwhile, the employees who joined the program would not be laid off. However, the plan does not include any pilots and cabin crew.


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