Coronavirus set to ground all planes

About 650 aircraft to rest in hangars after restrictions

Updated - March 23, 2020 11:28 pm IST

Published - March 23, 2020 10:40 pm IST - MUMBAI

The unprecedented action taken by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to suspend all domestic flight operations from midnight Tuesday to combat COVID-19 will ground the entire fleet of Indian airlines estimated at 650 aircraft.

While most part of this fleet has already been grounded since Sunday night when all international operations were shut down, the suspension of domestic operations from 23.59 hrs of Tuesday will bring commercial aviation in India to a grinding halt. Foreign airlines have been banned from flying into India since Sunday. Possibly, this is the first time the aircraft will be grounded for several days, possibly weeks.

This has been necessitated in the interest of public health and after repeated appeal from States to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across the country, said experts.

“To my knowledge, this will be the first time that the whole commercial aviation will come to a stand still. Around three decades back, when Indian Airlines pilots went on strike, the entire domestic fleet was grounded because Indian Airlines was the only domestic airline then. However, international airlines were operating,” said Jitender Bhargava, former executive director, Air India. “This is unprecedented but essential,” he said.

Kapil Kaul, CEO and director, CAPA Advisory, said “The government clearly sees heightened risks related to the COVID-19 virus and is determined to take unprecedented action to slow its transmission. This is the right decision in the prevailing circumstances.”

“For airlines, this suspension coincides with what can only be described as a destruction of demand in the last few days. The timing of the resumption of services is entirely in the control of the government, but it will most likely be beyond 31 March,2020,” he said.

He said the severity of disruption which the Indian aviation industry is experiencing will have an impact that will be felt well beyond FY2021, unless the government is able to provide quick and meaningful support.

“Industry stability in the post-COVID period will also depend upon promoters of distressed airlines themselves bringing in significant funds,” he said.

According to Mr. Bhargava, the airlines would emerge stronger if they use this opportunity to think of long-term viability and sustainable operations.

“The government should help airlines to defer the payment to airport operators, oil commpanies to help them to deal with this situation. However, the airlines must pay the TDS of employees and their Provident Fund,” he said.

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