Arvind Singh, Chairman, Airports Authority of India (AAI), shares the way forward for international operations, including potential air bubbles with the US, Canada and the Gulf, while stressing that airports are well-equipped to handle the increased traffic. However, there are multiple considerations before international operations are resumed.
Agreeing that despite resuming domestic operations it would take some time for normalcy in the aviation sector to return, Arvind Singh says that there is going to be substantial reduction in India in the scale of airline and airport operations in this financial year 2020-21. However, he adds, “Since domestic flights resumed on May 25, we have seen more than two million people travel to various parts of the country. It is a very large number travelling in over a month. On an average, nowadays we are operating 800 flights in the country and about 70,000 people in the country are using air as a mode to travel. Since the resumption of domestic flight operations, the cleanliness of every nook and corner of all airports is being ensured in the country, including AAI and private JV airports, especially the larger ones at Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kochi. In fact, airports are receiving positive feedback for efficient handling of domestic operations with due precautions, and we are hopeful that airports will witness passenger traffic in the future while ensuring complete safety of passengers.”
Insisting that there has been a persistent demand from the Indian community from across the globe to restart scheduled international operations now, Singh says, “We must appreciate that in this changed situation, Government of India is regularly holding discussions with its counterpart governments because they also need to be on board. This becomes very difficult not only due to the difference of opinion among country representatives, but also due to a host of different protocols and SOPs within the states. Similarly, there are differences in perceptions as well as the scale of the pandemic in different parts of the globe. At Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), those negotiating with different countries say that they are in constant touch and working on a consensus to start international operations, which is going to be in ‘air bubbles’. Hence, talks are mainly going on with the US, Canada, Europe and the Gulf countries to start flights in these bubbles with Indian carriers and carriers of those nations. While EU has banned flights from India owing to the rise in cases here, I am sure there will be positive outcome of talks with the US, Canada and the Gulf.”
In the interim, he adds, repatriation flights and charter flights are being approved by the government on a case-to-case basis. “Hence, from an airport perspective, we should be ready with additional measures to facilitate international commercial operations. If these negotiations fructify and operations start in July, we should be ready. Once we get the go-ahead from the government and we get the guidelines from civil aviation authorities, we would be fully geared to facilitate the commencement of international flights,” claims Singh.
Combating the ills of reduced traffic
Singh says that the government is also proactively thinking of measures to revive the atmosphere among stakeholders owing to the decline in traffic. “There is work going on for the easing of airspace used by civilian flights, because there is a large amount of airspace restricted for use due to defence and security considerations. We are debating on how we can release more concessions to MRO facility because maintenance and repair operations don’t happen on a large scale in India. Hence, we are in discussion if some tax concessions could be given, and also to speed up the process of privatisation of AAI airports because this method has given good service to passengers and also yielded good revenue for AAI as well as the government in the past,” he reveals.
Talking about airport privatisation, he says, “While the AAI board has recommended leasing out six more brownfield airports, we are in the middle of seeking cabinet approval. Then the process of bidding will start.”