While currently the flights are operated by state-owned carriers, Puri said private airlines may also join in during subsequent evacuation efforts.
The Government of India will begin conducting the first phase of repatriation flights for 14,800 Indian citizens stranded abroad from May 7, minister of civil aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said on Tuesday. Over 1.9 lakh Indians have approached the authorities with the request to return. From May 7 to 13, 64 flights will be operated by state-owned carriers Air India and Air India Express.
Evacuation flights will be operated from the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Singapore, the Philippines and Bangladesh.
FE last week had reported that while commercial flights would remain suspended, Air India may operate flights to evacuate stranded Indians in May. Passengers will have to pay for their seats and ticket prices will range between Rs 12,000 and Rs 1 lakh, depending on the destination.
For instance, the Dhaka-Delhi flight ticket will cost Rs 12,000, while the Chicago-Delhi, San Francisco-Delhi, Newark-Mumbai flights will cost Rs 1,00,000. “All those who can avail of this, will have to be charged… and on arrival all passengers will have to be screened and will have to be subjected to a 14-day quarantine period. This will be made known to everyone prior to them being offered this facility. On the aircraft itself all protective measures will be taken as per prescribed protocol,” Puri said. The quarantine facilities will also be paid for by passengers, Puri said. He added that the government’s exchequer “does not have the space to bear the cost of repatriating 1,90,000 people, so it has to be charged to passengers.” A senior ministry official said while the standard operating protocol for passengers’ safety was being worked out by the health ministry, the flights will be operating at full capacity. “The first phase of flights will not leave seats empty,” the official said.
Kerala and Delhi will take in the maximum number of passengers during the first week. Kerala will receive 15 flights from seven countries with 3,150 passengers, while Delhi will receive 11 flights from nine countries with 3,100 passengers. Tamil Nadu will also receive 11 flights from nine countries, while Maharashtra and Telangana will receive seven flights from six countries during the first week. “The overall scheme was initially confined to 1,90,000 people wanting to come back. Many more people, over and above the 190,000, expressed an interest to travel. We will have to make sure we can deal with numbers which will be transported safely and which are welcome by the receiving states along with the health infrastructure that is required,” Puri said, adding that ramping up repatriation efforts would depend on the initial experience. The government is also working to send Indian citizens with long-term visas and jobs to their respective foreign countries. Passengers will have to submit a self-reporting form as well.
While currently the flights are operated by state-owned carriers, Puri said private airlines may also join in during subsequent evacuation efforts. Private commercial airlines have seen revenues dry up after the government suspended all passenger flights on May 25. Commercial passenger flights are currently suspended till May 17. GoAir’s promoters told employees on May 3 that operations are unlikely to commence before June 1. India has been on lockdown since March 25 to curb the spread of Covid-19. Currently, over 1,389 people have succumbed to the highly contagious novel coronavirus in India. India has over 42,836 cases as on Tuesday.