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Coronavirus outbreak: Airlines seek relief package from govt

By Arindam Majumder & Aneesh Phadnis
March 12, 2020 12:56 IST
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Airlines sought a limited period concession of the standing rule of slot allocation, which mandates that firms must operate at least 80 per cent of their allocated slots.

With travel dwindling after the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Indian airline firms have sought a relief package from the government, asking that it include a waiver of landing and parking charges and payment to oil marketing companies.

Airlines sought a limited period concession of the standing rule of slot allocation, which mandates that firms must operate at least 80 per cent of their allocated slots.

 

If they fail, airlines lose their right to that slot the next season.

Sources aware of the development said that chief executive officers of Indian airlines met Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola on Tuesday and said the relief package was important to sustain the health of the industry.

“The meeting was a part of the government’s stock-taking measure of the impact of COVID-19 on various sectors.

"The secretary of civil aviation had called the CEOs regarding that and sought to know what could be done to reduce impact on airlines as we are the first to get hit in times like this,” said a person who attended the meeting.

The delegation was led by SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh. GoAir CEO Vinay Dube and Vistara CEO Leslie Thng also attended the meeting.

Kharola on Wednesday briefed the Prime Minister’s Office about his interaction with the CEOs.

Low fuel price was supposed to bring back cheer for Indian airlines.

But with global spread of coronavirus, airlines are being forced to rejig their network, cut flights and delay new launches.

Adding to the worry is a reduction in inbound tourists with multiple countries issuing advisories to their citizens after the communal riots in New Delhi last month.

IndiGo, SpiceJet and Air India Express are all planning to cut flights to Saudi Arabia as West Asia has been impacted by the outbreak.

Following Saudi Arabia’s ban on religious tours, IndiGo and SpiceJet executives said they were looking at places where the capacity could be diverted.

Saudi Arabia is the second largest air travel market for Indians in West Asia after the United Arab Emirates, and around 5.9 million passengers flew between the nations in 2019.

Vistara has already cancelled 20 flights between Delhi and Bangkok and eight between Delhi and Singapore in March.

It will also cancel 26 flights between Mumbai and Singapore.

The Indian aviation industry could see an impact of 19.5-23.8 per cent on international passenger traffic growth, said Kinjal Shah, vice-president at rating agency ICRA.

“This is negative for the Indian aviation industry, which is already reeling under significant passenger traffic slowdown, with international traffic growth for the first nine months of fiscal 2020 having witnessed a decline of 8.4 per cent," Shah added.

Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

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Arindam Majumder & Aneesh Phadnis in New Delhi
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