Sunday, May 03, 2020

Air Travel Will Cost More: Ex-Air India Exec Director

What would it be like to travel by air post lockdown? Will social distancing be a new normal on flights? Will air travel become expensive? Will the next several months be a survival battle for he aviation industry? For answers to all these questions, The Quint interviewed former executive director of Air India and aviation expert Jitender Bhargava.
Lockdown will be not lifted totally soon. I am surprised at over-enthusiasm of India’s private carriers in wanting to resume operations. They may resume flights but will they get passengers? Now are you expecting a different set of rules for air passengers... that I will take a flight from city A and get down at city B and walk home? It is very unlikely to happen. So why do they want to operate flights? One reason could be - when the lockdown was imposed, people got stranded in different cities and could not reach home and they could be checking with the airlines as to when are they starting flights. So airlines may have a false impression that there is demand. But that will be temporary. For sustainable flight operation I don’t foresee any future. They are already losing money and will lose more.

The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) has informed the Ministry of Civil Aviation about what needs to be done when flights resume. For instance - the middle seat be left vacant to have social distancing between two passengers. The last three rows in every flight be left vacant. If there is a suspected infected case on board, these rows can be used as an isolation ward. No food and drink to be served to minimize contact between crew and passengers.

But airlines are already saying that leaving the middle seat vacant will cause a big loss of income. Airline are offering to give all passengers gloves and masks as a measure to ensure safety. But with over a hundred passengers on board, what if one careless passenger takes off his/her mask or is not willing to adhere to this norm, can the airline risk the safety of other passengers?

Let’s take the example of IndiGo, India’s largest domestic player and the most profitable airline. Now they had to leave 35-40% seats vacant, they will have to raise fares for the rest of the seats to remain profitable. So, the days of cheap (air) travel are over.

There is no normalcy on the horizon. Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) estimates Indian carriers will have 250 aircraft sitting idle. My estimate is much more. All airlines in India together have 650 aircraft, but we are not likely to need even 300 aircraft.
03/05/20 Quint
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