The central government should change its position and support the Indian airlines and other aviation stakeholders in the face of COVID-19 crisis, a top official of global airlines body IATA said on Wednesday.
The Indian carriers have laid off employees, cut salaries and posted significant losses during the last few quarters as coronavirus-induced travel restrictions have drastically impacted the aviation sector.
"The Indian government has not engaged in support for airlines and we do urge them to change that position and to assist the airlines and airports and other aviation stakeholders, IATA Regional Vice President for Asia Pacific region, Conrad Clifford said. This is something that we continue to encourage and urge the Indian government to do, he said at a virtual press conference.
The Indian airlines have sought an interest-free credit line of at least USD 1.5 billion for the coronavirus-impacted aviation sector, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had told the Rajya Sabha on September 16. The airlines have sought relief from the government by asking that banks and financial institutions may be directed by the Centre to defer repayments of loans to the aviation industry by six months, the minister had noted.
Clifford said given the increase in domestic activity in India, he hopes that the Indian carriers would get back to a cash positive situation, possibly more quickly than the carriers that do not have a strong domestic market. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) represents around 290 airlines across the world comprising 82 per cent of the global air traffic.
"The progressive raising of the limitation by the Indian authorities is actually being matched by demand… and I do expect that trend to continue so it is very welcome to be raising the restriction, which the authorities have been doing progressively," Clifford said. Since May, the country has gradually raised the limit on the number of domestic flights that the Indian carriers can operate.
India had resumed scheduled domestic passenger services from May 25, after a gap of two months due to the coronavirus-triggered lockdown. However, the airlines were allowed to operate not more than 33 per cent of their pre-COVID domestic flights. On June 26, this was increased to 45 per cent, and on September 2, it was further increased to 60 per cent. This cap was extended to 70 per cent on November 11.
The cap raise is leading to increased passenger traffic and the number of flights, Clifford added. Scheduled international passenger flights continue to remain suspended in the country since March 23 due to the pandemic.
However, Indian airlines have been permitted to operate special international flights under the Vande Bharat Mission since May this year and under the bilateral air bubble pacts since July.