Aircraft queue up on the tarmac before taking off at Mumbai airport: AFP
Aircraft queue up on the tarmac before taking off at Mumbai airport. File photo: AFP

After allowing trains to run in limited numbers, the Indian government is reportedly planning to let airline flights restart, while the country continues its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The civil aviation ministry has produced an elaborate draft standard operating procedure to be followed while restarting commercial flights, which were suspended on March 25, the Press Trust of India reported.

Passengers will have to check-in via the internet, fill in a detailed questionnaire related to the coronavirus and reach the airport at least two hours before departure. They will not be allowed to carry cabin baggage.

They will have to download the Aarogya Setu app, a Covid-19 tracking mobile application developed by the National Informatics Centre, on their smartphones to show they are not infected by the virus. The app has drawn flak for its privacy breaches and allegations that the government may use the information for surveillance.

Opposition parties attacked the government for its recent controversial order making it mandatory for all employees to download the app. However, the government stated that elaborate measures had been taken to ensure data security and the app would not preserve the data of a user for more than 30 days, and for those who tested positive for the coronavirus, 60 days after being cured.

In case a passenger is not allowed to travel because of a high temperature or age, he or she should not be permitted to change the date of their travel without penalty and airlines would have to maintain their records. Airports should have isolation zones in their terminals for such passengers.

Inside the aircraft, three rows of seats will be kept vacant for isolating any passenger who has a medical emergency on board. Interestingly, the document does not mention leaving the middle seat of the aircraft vacant for social-distancing.

Aviation regulator the Director General of Civil Aviation had made such a suggestion before the suspension of commercial flights in March. It was opposed by airline operators on the grounds that it would hurt their businesses and profitability.

Instead, they suggested the government should ask passengers to use personal protective equipment like suits, masks and gloves at all times during flights.

The civil aviation ministry had prepared the draft document after discussions with stakeholders, including airlines and airport operators. Comments have been sought from the stakeholders.