Times Of India Editorials : Turbulent start

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Air travel judders to take off. Ease the flight path for airlines and flyers

Another step towards reopening the economy was made yesterday with the resumption of commercial flight operations. However, both airlines and flyers have to tide over significant barriers along the way. Flights were cancelled leaving passengers in the lurch. But the biggest difficulty is proving to be the doubts and ambivalence (equivocation) harboured by state governments in allowing inbound flights. Some of India’s busiest airports like Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata are capping the number of flights. Widely differing quarantine protocols of various state governments are also proving to be a dampener (a thing that has a restraining or subduing effect) for air travel.

Fear of imported Covid cases is genuine but walling off completely is not an option, if the economy is to restart. States can’t be complaining about revenues tanking during the lockdown and then contradicting that by worrying themselves into a tizzy about the risks of reopening the economy. Transport and the unhindered movement of people, commodities and services are the lifeline of the economy. A new normal will not be possible without reasonable compromises in these areas.

Most of the bigger economies, save for India and Saudi Arabia, had only partial restrictions on air travel. Indian airline companies, weakened by successive lockdowns, can do with more governmental support and predictable policies. The hollowing out of the aviation sector isn’t in the interest of the Centre or states with its knock-on effects on tourism, hospitality and ancillary services. In pre-Covid times, it wasn’t unusual to see states wooing more airlines to service airports in their territories, offering incentives like fuel tax reduction. Centre too needs to rethink its price caps with planes flying half empty.

The interest of flyers is equally important. States must arrive at a uniform quarantine protocol and make allowances for business travellers spending just a day or two at their port of call. Concerns about modality of institutional/ home quarantine must be resolved soon. Flyers must also get refunds for cancelled flights. Covid cases have shot up from 500-odd at the lockdown’s start to over 1.3 lakh now, pointing to significant community transmission. Air travel can no longer be termed a singular risk factor with other sectors also opening up. Two months should have been adequate to add capacity in the system to test, trace, isolate (separate) and treat. Fear psychosis, stemming from unpreparedness, is no longer an excuse for administrators.

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