The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has issued a summary guideline to all airport users, airlines in particular, as the country prepares to return to a semblance of normalcy post the Covid-19 lockdown.
Airlines are now preparing their own respective SOPs (standard operating procedures) in compliance with the circulars issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and their own internal risk mitigation from the pandemic. The circular was sent on April 28, 2020.
While it may be long before the airports operate to their optimum, it is now being contemplated that airport terminals across the country will be allowed to open to utilise only 30 per cent of its capacity. Floor plans, queue plans, ticketing arena, using the elevator/escalator - all steps inside the airport will be monitored and enforced with strict social distancing norms.
“Based on the social distancing norms, airports will work out the terminal building capacity and forward it to headquarters based on which slot allocation for the planned scheduled flights will be issued. Norms for airside and terminal side will be effectively changed in view of Covid-19,” a senior aviation ministry official said.
Even at airports that have more than one terminal, the flight and passenger movement will be restricted to limited area so as to manage the sanitation of the requisite region.
AAI officials are trying to work out a ‘city pair’ plan by which airports of both the operating cities will be opened simultaneously. This will happen with first priority to flights between two metro airports in state capitals and then subsequently to tier-II cities.
The Summer 2020 schedule that was filed by airlines for operating flights to various cities has been scrapped. Airlines are now required to submit a new plan of action with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and a limited schedule.
“We will be allotting staggered timings to airlines for their departure and arrivals so as to ensure there is no crowding at the airports at any point. International schedules will be planned in similar fashion,” a senior AAI official said not willing to be named.
The ministry has also issued detailed planning for entry and exit at airports to ensure adequate public transport system is in place.
The biggest beating will be taken by the food and beverage and other retail outlets at the airports. A vendor who operates kiosks at multiple airports said, “We have been told to plan to serve only tea/coffee and takeaway snack boxes until the pandemic is cleared. That means business will be limited for at least 3-6 more months from the time flights commence.”
Airports’ waiting area will now have limited seating with no bar/restaurant facilities. In fact, the spa centres and massage chair facilities etc will be suspended across airports.
Airport directors have been asked to plan seating with a minimum of 1-1.5metre distance between passengers. Staff has to be deployed to monitor discipline in washrooms and near conveyor belts.
Airlines have been asked to provide their airport staff with essential protective equipment when handling passengers based on the risk category as per circular of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
Even for airside operations, all staff have to be in protective gear and will have limited access to ATC offices and other operational areas. A detailed checklist for inspection of runway, taxiway, apron area etc. has also been issued.
Screening at airport
As you enter the airport, you’ll see,
- More check in counters that will open well in advance to ensure no crowding.
- Check-in times to be planned for an earlier slot from the current 1-1.5 hours.
- Queues at entry points, frisking booths, boarding gates shall be managed with markings/stickers at all places.
- Separate designated parking stands and baggage reclaim belts for flights arriving from areas with active community transmission and declared hotspots.
- A health declaration form to be filled. Health information in form of posters, videos, announcements at the airport and in flight to drill the message of keeping distance.
- City-side traffic, car parking area will be strictly monitored in coordination with traffic police.
- Sufficient stock of sanitizers/disinfectant materials at all access points.
- Limited seating zones in the security hold area with proper sanitisation before and after departure/arrival of a flight.
- Doctors and paramedics to be deployed to screen passengers. A dedicated isolation area with primary medical facility for confirmed or suspected COVID patients.
- Limited entry in smoking rooms, no kids’ play areas, restricted access to praying rooms.
- Social distancing (1-1.5 meter) markings at various places including departing, arriving gates, in queue at various location
Strict norms for sanitation and cleanliness
- Cleanliness and sanitisation of every nook and corner of entire terminal building and public areas shall be ensured including washrooms' chairs, counters, trolleys, security trays, X-Ray machines, railings, doors etc on hourly/two-hourly basis.
- Limited drinking water facility with possible no touch button. Airlines are experimenting with foot buttons to spew water and doors with foot knobs to open and close.
- Detailed guidelines for proper disposal of all categories of waste generated at the terminal building to limit spread of infection if any.
- Thorough cleaning of waste containers such as trash cans and regular disinfection to be carried out.
- On identification of a suspected or confirmed case of passenger with COVID, entire terminal is to be disinfected.
(Mamta Todi is a Bhopal based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)