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Domestic passenger flights to resume Monday amid confusion as several states set their own rules


New Delhi, May 24: Indian skies will open up for domestic passenger flights from Monday after a gap of two months but there was confusion following imposition of own set of conditions and rules by several states which are at odds with each other.
Many states like Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu were opposed to opening up of their airports in view of rising cases of the coronavirus infection, making it difficult for the airlines as well as the civil aviation authorities to resume services.
Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are home to some of the busiest airports in terms of passenger traffic.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said on Twitter on Sunday that it is “extremely ill-advised” to reopen airports in red zones.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she will urge the Centre to postpone resumption of domestic flight services at Kolkata and Bagdogra airports by a few days.
On Sunday afternoon, AirAsia India said on Twitter that all passengers must read the health protocols of the destination states and it would “not be responsible for repatriating or bearing any quarantine or related costs of any guests”.
In the midst of uncertainty and confusion, representatives of airline and several states held multiple meetings with top officials of the Civil Aviation Ministry on Sunday covering a range of contentious issues like quarantine rules for flyers and standard operating procedures for leading airports, officials said.
The focus of the deliberations was to have uniform quarantine rules following announcement of separate conditions by various state governments. However, it is not immediately clear whether uniform quarantine rules as envisaged could be finalised in the meetings.
The government last week announced resumption of the domestic flight services from May under specific rules and guidelines like cap on ticket pricing, wearing of face masks by passengers, no food served on board planes and making available details of medical conditions by travellers through Aarogya Setu app or by filling up of a self declaration form.
The government’s decision came as the aviation sector was reeling under severe stress triggered by the coronavirus lockdown that began on March 25.
However, many states expressed serious reservations to the Centre’s decision to start the flight services. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Punjab, Assam and Andhra Pradesh have announced their respective quarantine measures for passengers arriving at their airports.
Some states decided to put passengers on mandatory institutional quarantine while several others talked about putting them under home quarantine.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Saturday questioned the need for quarantine if a passenger is shown green status in Aarogya Setu app. The green status signifies that a passenger is safe.
However, as the states remained adamant on the matter, the central government is trying to create coherence in quarantine rules for flyers, officials said.
They said bookings have been opened for around 1,050 domestic flights that will operate on Monday.
Several executives from a number of airlines said since Mumbai airport and Kolkata airport handle a significant share of domestic flights, the operators are expecting the Centre to clarify the “prevailing confusion” relating to quarantine.
“Clarity is required on matters regarding quarantine and flights to Mumbai and Kolkata as it is affecting our bookings. Passengers are reluctant to book in such an environment,” said an executive of a low cost carrier.
The Jammu and Kashmir government said on Saturday that all incoming passengers will have to undergo 14 days of “administrative quarantine”.
Similarly, the Kerala government said on Friday that all flyers will be put into 14 days’ home quarantine and that it has made an exception to those coming for business purpose or for a short duration.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had said all incoming passengers will be put in home quarantine for 14 days while the Bihar government said that travellers will be put on “paid quarantine” for 14 days.
Passengers coming to Andhra Pradesh would be put under home quarantine, said the state government, adding that once their test results for COVID-19 come negative, they will be relieved from quarantine.
The Assam government on Friday said it will be putting flyers on a 14-day quarantine. The passengers might be distributed equally in home quarantine and government quarantine, it clarified.
Karnataka government’s health ministry made it clear said that anyone coming from states where there is “high prevalence” of COVID-19 will be kept in institutional quarantine for seven days and if tested COVID-negative, the passenger will have to spend the next seven days in home quarantine.
Karnataka has classified Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as “high prevalence” states.
The passengers coming through remaining states in the country to Karnataka will have to undergo 14 days of home quarantine.
However, the Karnataka health department clarified that special cases where businessmen are coming for urgent work will not require to undergo any quarantine if they bring test results that are not more than two days old and show them COVID-negative.
Puri’s announcement on Wednesday that airlines will resume domestic passenger flights from Monday came as a big breather for the aviation sector.
Saujanya Shrivastava, Chief Operating Officer – Flights, MakeMyTrip and Goibibo, said: “With domestic flights taking off after 61 days of lockdown, there is an understandable apprehension amongst flyers. That said, we expect the situation to smoothen out as flyers gradually get attuned to the new safety protocols.” (PTI)