Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

Indian airports are preparing to implement appropriate safety measures once the ongoing countrywide lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic is lifted.

This is the first time the government has imposed a total shutdown of air transport. Once flights resume, social distancing will be strictly enforced at all airports, say officials.

Both the state-owned Airport Authority of India and private airport management firms are reportedly strengthening their sanitation measures and implementing procedures to comply with social distancing norms that may remain in force for many more months, Business Standard reports. The Civil Aviation Ministry has formed a committee to finalize guidelines on how to resume air travel.

The Central Industrial Security Force, a paramilitary force that guards the country’s airports, will check the body temperatures of passengers at the entrance. Passengers may have to arrive early for check-in. Airports have already started marking various contact points to facilitate social distancing.

Delhi Airport has deployed a team of 500 professionals to carry out disinfection work every hour. There will be additional queue managers at entrances, exits, check-in halls, security check areas and boarding gates. Social-distancing markers and reminder signs will be in place throughout the facility.

Mumbai airport has established quarantine centers at both terminals. If a passenger exhibits symptoms, screening will be compulsory before they can enter the airport. It will advise travelers to carry less luggage and wear masks and gloves.

Bangalore airport authorities are disinfecting the entire premises during the lockdown and plan to step up sanitizing and deep cleaning once the airport opens for flights.

Once the lockdown is lifted the government may resume flights in a phased manner. Fear of contracting the disease is expected to deter many people from traveling.

Airports expect passenger footfalls to be low for the entire year and this will greatly reduce revenue. The government recommendation that business outlets within airport premises remain closed for a certain period is also bound to affect airports’ income. The rents from such stores is a major source of income for private airports. It is already down to zero due to the current lockdown. Only pharmacies and automated teller machines are allowed to function.

Delhi International Airport Limited, which runs the Delhi airport and pays 47% of its revenue as rental to state-owned AAI, has started negotiations for a waiver on that till business returns to normal.

Earlier the airlines watchdog Directorate General of Civil Aviation had suggested measures to minimize contact within aircraft. It has mooted keeping all middle seats and the last three rows empty to isolate passengers who develop symptoms during the flight. Market experts feel this may lead to higher fares.

Aviation consultancy CAPA had projected initial losses of US$3.3 to $3.6 billion for the Indian aviation industry in the first quarter of FY2021. The falling demand would leave Indian carriers with 200 to 250 surplus planes over the next six to 12 months, it said.

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