The year 2020 created unprecedented times for the travel industry and more so, for the global aviation industry. With travel suspended for almost an year now, many airlines wrapped up their business, many laid off staff, while most of them looked at their respective governments for a bail out. Amid this challenging period, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) played a key role in bringing back stranded nationals and reinstating international travel.
Here are some ways in which Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) kept the Indian Aviation Industry going during 2020.
Mission – Lifeline UDAN
‘Lifeline Udan’ flights were started by MoCA to transport essential medical cargo to different parts of the country to support India’s fight against COVID – 19. The essential cargo included reagents, enzymes, medical equipment, testing kits, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE}, masks, gloves and other accessories required by Corona Warriors across the country. Helicopter services including Pawan Hans Ltd have been operating in J&K, Ladakh, Islands and North East region transporting critical medical cargo and patients.
Domestic Lifeline Udan flights operated in a hub and spoke model. Cargo hubs were established at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Guwahati. Lifeline Udan flights connected these hubs to airports (Spokes) at Dibrugarh, Agartala, Aizwal, Dimapur, Imphal, Jorhat, Lengpui, Mysuru, Nagpur, Coimbatore, Trivandrum, Bhubaneswar, Raipur, Ranchi, Srinagar, Port Blair, Patna, Cochin, Vijayawada, Ahmedabad, Jammu, Kargil, Ladakh, Chandigarh, Goa, Bhopal and Pune. Special focus was given on the North East Region, island territories and the hill states. Air India and IAF collaborated primarily for J&K, Ladakh, North-East and other island regions.
Vande Bharat Mission
MoCA issued Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for private aircraft and charter operations on international sectors in order to facilitate the movement of stranded Indian nationals and certain OCI card holders to bring back to India. The mission called ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ started on 7 May 2020. Around 31 Jakh Indians have been repatriated under the Vande Bharat Mission till 31.12.2020. The VBM has so far involved 6373 Air India flights and 474 flights by the private Indian carriers. Till date a total of 1,035,471 Indian nationals have been repatriated by Air India whereas 74,675 Indian nationals have been brought back by private carriers. The mission is still going on.
Air Bubble Arrangements
“Transport Bubbles” or “Air Travel Arrangements” are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services as international flights are suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. India has established transport bubbles with twenty-four countries across the world.
MoCA facilitated supply of Cargo despite ban on passenger flights. Permission to utilise the passenger cabin of aircraft for carriage of cargo was given.
Reopening of Domestic Air Transport in a stage wise manner: On 25th May 2020, the commercial civil aviation operations were reopened with robust SOPs. The SOPs were updated time to time & aviation has emerged as the safest mode of transport.
On Arrival RT-PCR Test
RT-PCR Testing at the entry airport for the arriving international passengers was allowed at all the arriving international passengers, if they so desire, to avail the facility of RT-PCR testing at the entry airport, wherever available. The guidelines were applicable for all arriving international passengers, who arrive at an entry airport in India without RT-PCR Negative certificate and wish to avail exemption from institutional quarantine or need to take a connecting flight to domestic destinations in India.
In the context of “Krishi Udaan” announced through the Union Budget 2020-21 on 01 February 2020, the first marine sector pilot project was launched on 26 February 2020 during the harvesting season of mid-February through till May. The pilot entailed 06 freighter operations per week (03 between Chennai¬ Vizag-Surat and 03 between Chennai-Vizag, Kolkata) for air transporting shrimp seeds for harvesting at Surat and Kolkata and then further exports of high value fresh and chilled shrimps out of India. Each freighter load is about 20-22 tonnes.
About 2,800 tonnes of agri-produce, particularly mangoes, fruit and vegetables, was exported to Europe, Middle East, South-East Asia, Hongkong etc. Operation Greens Scheme has been implemented in co-ordination with Ministry of Food Processing Industries extending 50% rebate in airlines freight charges & Cargo Terminal Operators Terminal, Storage & Processing charges for 41 Fruits & Vegetables at airports in North Eastern & Himalayan States / UTs.
Inauguration of Water Aerodromes
Water Aerodromes were inaugurated at Statue of Unity, Kevadia & Sabarmati River. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated two water aerodromes i.e. Statue of Unity, Kevadia & Sabarmati River Front on 31st October, 2020 and sea plane operations under RCS-UDAN between these two water aerodromes.
In-flight Wi-fi services
Aircraft Rules 1937 has been amended which provides an enabling provision for usage of internet services in-flight through Wi-Fi on board in all domestic and international aircraft in Indian airspace when the aircraft is flying above 3000 meters.