The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCa) is conducting weekly meetings with stakeholders as the officials prepare themselves to resume air operations likely by May 18.
Chaired by MoCA Joint Secretary Usha Padhee, representatives of all airlines, Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the private airports have been asked to submit a list of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that they will comply with once the airports reopen for operations.
While the directive so far was to start operations in airports that fall under safe no-Covid-cases zone, all the major metro airports are in the red zone areas. A decision to restart services in worst-affected cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai, will be taken later this week.
Meanwhile, a major challenge that all airlines are likely to face soon after reopening its services is to roster their pilots who have lost their recency by not flying the aircraft for the stipulated hours since the lockdown was announced. “We are expecting that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will issue an exemption circular and the pilots and rest of the cabin crew will have to gain their current ratings gradually,” a senior DGCA official said, highlighting that a pilot is required to do at least one flight in a month to retain current rating for flying.
Moreover, the airlines are preparing for a completely no-touch check-in process at the airports. With foot touch kiosks for water to contact-less transactions for issuing boarding pass, majority airlines are gearing up for business and will first restart operations for the booking backlogs that they already have. No new bookings will be allowed till the end of the month wherein the new systems will be put through real time test.
“From boarding pass to bag tags, everything will be printed through a self-check in kiosk,” an airline official said. Even airports will be operating only one of their terminals. For instance, Delhi airport will reopen only T3 terminal, while the Mumbai airport will reopen its T2 terminal.
The airports have also been advised to explore the possibility of installing a sanitising tunnel developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at the entry point.
Guidelines for airports (4th edition) issued by MoCA on May 9
- Availability of movable hand wash cart or alcohol-based hand sanitisers at within the terminal.
- Disinfection of utility areas like washroom, all terminals counters, security screening areas, touch screens, communication screens.
- Staff, crew and passengers to use sanitised vehicles with limited seating for transportation within airport.
- Select taxi services only to be authorised by the airport operator for plying to the airport.
- All change management /projects at the airport terminal or airside to be suspended unless of critical nature.
- Entry permitted in the terminal with adequate protective gear like masks, gloves, shoe cover etc.
- Arrangement to be in place for making available the required protective gear for entry into the terminal on chargeable basis.
- Thermal Scanner and sanitiser dispensers to be installed at all entry points for passengers as well as at staff gates, boarding and disembarkation points.
- Bleach cleaning mats at the entrance or any material which is capable of disinfecting shoes.
- Passenger ID check at the airport entry to be stopped as it has no significant value addition.
- Sanitisation of checked baggage by the airport operator by installing UV light (or equivalent effective method) in the screening belt.
- CISF may not stamp on boarding passes anymore.
Guidelines for airlines
- Crew Pairing: Ministry has advised rostering same set of cabin and cockpit crew as long as possible, as it will help in preventing cross contamination.
- Absolutely controlled cockpit entry.
- No cabin baggage in the initial phase. Checked-in baggage to be only one piece (< 20 Kg).
- Airlines to explore use of disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) for passengers - mask, gown type overall with hood, gloves. Cost to be recovered from passenger.
- No meal service, no paper or magazines, water to be available in cups/bottle.
(Mamta Todi is a Bhopal based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of reporters.)