To bring back stranded Indians from overseas, the government finally issued guidelines for an order to allow non-scheduled domestic operations, post two months of travel restrictions.
After months of inactivity due to the lockdown to deal with the pandemic and persistent requests by the industry leaders, the Indian BizAv industry finally saw some action being taken by the government. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) gave out an order dated May 24, 2020, permitting international charter operations and operations by private aircraft to bring back stranded Indian nationals to India. The MHA also permitted certain categories of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Card holders to come to India in terms of the MHA order issued on May 22, 2020.
In order to facilitate the movement of stranded Indian nationals and certain OCI Card holders, a Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for Private aircraft and Charter operations on international sectors in view of COVID -19 pandemic was also prepared by the Ministry through a letter issued to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. Suitable precautionary measures such as environmental sanitation and disinfection shall be ensured within the flights.
Some guidelines for the travelers include:
Some guidelines for the operators were as follows:
The cabin crew must wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) which include medical protective masks, medical rubber gloves, goggles/face shield, disposable medical caps and disposable protective clothing. The procedure for wearing and taking off the same has also been specified in the letter along with the instructions regarding disinfectants as well as regular sanitisation. Cabin crew should be assigned to provide service in their designated areas, avoid close contact with passengers and only provide necessary in-flight service. Cabin crew also to be designated to provide basic service for flight crew members when needed.
A meeting through Video Conferencing (VC) was organised by Mrs. Usha Padhee, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) on May 23, 2020 with the CEOs of Non-scheduled Operators (NSOP) regarding restarting of Domestic Charter operations under the Chairmanship of Secretary, Civil Aviation. The Joint Secretary requested all participants to send their view/suggestions to MoCA.
Along with queries and suggestions from the CEOs present, Julian D’souza of Jupiter Air requested, “the operating crew of NSOP flights should be treated as part of essential services. Otherwise the state governments would put the operating crew also as per health protocols.”
Group Capt. Bali of BAOA (Business Aviation Operators Association) also requested that crew should be treated as part of essential services. He also informed that a team is already working to design a website, so that required information could be put through a single platform.
“No or minimum catering (pre packed cold meals/snacks - depending on the duration of flight). No tea or coffee service shall be available. Water bottles and pre-packaged food (wherever required) would be placed on passenger seats before passenger boarding to minimise passenger interaction with the cabin crew. Additional water bottles would be available in galley area on self-service basis,” the letter read.
The letter also specified that in the case of an ill passenger or a passenger showing COVID-I9 symptoms like fatigue or cough, high fever etc., the passenger should be isolated from the other passengers and a dedicated crew in complete protective gear be assigned to handle the case.