Finally, the takeoff

Partial route opening and limited flights will infuse some life into the aviation industry but flyer discipline must be paramount

As India slowly eases itself out of the lockdown that began on March 25, the Government has opened up various modes of transport like buses, taxis and trains with a strict set of guidelines to follow, considering that we are seeing a spike in Coronavirus cases each day. Now, the Government, which is keen to see the economy of the country back on track, has announced that it will be opening up domestic air travel, too, from May 25, exactly two months after the country shut itself down. This is good news for the domestic aviation industry that was already distressed before the lockdown began and has now reached the brink of extinction. But how much of a relief it turns out to be for the beleaguered airlines remains to be seen as it is not yet clear which routes will be operational with this key decision being left to individual State Governments. So, as with trains and opening up of inter-State borders for buses, we might see some States balk at the idea of opening up their skies amid a pandemic that does not show any sign of abating. Besides, most metropolitan cities continue to be in red zones. However, the Government is taking all precautions to ensure the safety of airport staff, airline employees and flyers alike as it has issued a string of detailed disinfecting codes on how we can travel.

But what of vital social distancing norms? It seems to be something of a paradox right now. Because on one side people will have to get on and off aircraft sequentially and in batches, so as to maintain social distancing, and waiting areas will have taped off or marked seats that cannot be used, but on the other side there are no plans to leave the middle seat vacant in the aircraft. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri says prices won’t be “viable” and the Aarogya Setu app profiling would ensure that suspect passengers are anyway not on board. Perhaps we should follow the example of the US airlines that are spreading out their passengers by blocking the middle seat and capping the number of passengers. And when we are expected to maintain social distancing on buses and taxis then, why not on flights? As it is, with nearly all modes of travel opened up, the virus is bound to spread faster now, unless all movement out of red zones is banned. This is something that the Government has to consider seriously. Opening up the economy and the aviation sector is a good move but giving social distancing norms a go by in a closely-packed, compressed air cabin could be an invitation to trouble.

Source: The Pioneer

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