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More domestic flights likely soon: Hardeep Singh Puri


New Delhi, June 20: The government-imposed upper and lower limits on airfares may be extended beyond August 24 depending upon how the situation turns out, Aviation Secretary P S Kharola said on Saturday.

Hardeep Singh Puri

Addressing a press conference along with Kharola, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the government will start thinking on resumption of international passenger flights in mid-July when it expects the domestic air traffic to reach 50-55 per cent of pre-COVID levels.

The minister also said that all 650 commercial aircraft that are in India will start flying and operating flights by the end of the year. The government resumed domestic passenger flights from May 25 after nearly two months of suspension to combat the coronavirus outbreak, but placed lower and upper limits on airfares depending upon the flight duration.

It had said on May 21 that these limits would be in place for a period of three months. "Depending on how the situation turns out, the fare band may have to adjusted beyond that (August 24) also. But right now, it is only for three months," Kharola said at the press conference here.

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On May 21, the aviation regulator DGCA issued the government-decided fare limits for these bands -- domestic flights with less than 40-minute duration to have lower and upper limits of Rs 2,000 and Rs 6,000, for 40-60 minutes Rs 2,500 and Rs 7,500, for 60-90 minutes Rs 3,000 and Rs 9,000, for 90-120 minutes Rs 3,500 and Rs 10,000, for 120-150 minutes Rs 4,500 and Rs 13,000, and for 150-180 minutes Rs 5,500 and Rs 15,700.

International passenger flights continue to remain suspended in the country. However, the government started Vande Bharat Mission on May 6 to help stranded people reach their destinations through special flights.

Puri said at the conference that during phase 3 and phase 4 of the mission, private domestic airlines have been approved to operate 750 international flights to repatriate people stranded amid the coronavirus pandemic. While the government has resumed domestic flight operations in the country from May 25, it has allowed only 33 per cent of the total pre-COVID flights.

"For the next week or so, we can increase the frequencies (on existing routes) and increase the number of places within the 33 per cent," said the minister. During the last few days, while some states have written to the aviation ministry asking for reduction in number of approved flights at their airports as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, others have asked to increase the number of flights, he said.

"Once you reach 50 per cent of domestic capacity, that is when one can say that we can start normal international civil aviation operations," he added. The minister said 50-55 per cent of the domestic civil aviation capacity will be attained slightly earlier than July 15. Puri noted the domestic traffic will reach the pre-COVID level of 2019 by the end of this year. "It is the most optimistic projection for any country," he mentioned.

He reiterated that resumption of international passenger flights would depend on when other countries will open up their borders for travellers.

"Once our domestic traffic reaches roughly 50-55 per cent, which means 1.5 lakh-1.6 lakh passengers per day, we can then start thinking on this (resuming international flights)," he said. Airlines' revenues have been hit hard due to travel restrictions imposed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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