The skies need to open again for the sake of the economy but the process might be complicated
The aviation sector has been among the hardest hit due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Even in those countries where air travel has not been completely restricted, passenger confidence has plummeted. Particularly as airlines became accustomed to shoving more and more people onto seats, social distancing onboard aircraft is being considered to be an impossibility now. Close proximity to strangers is the problem, or so we have been told over the past few weeks. And there are other things around, too. The huge lines at security and immigration points and at the check-in desk as well as the luggage reclaim counters. And what about taking a bus to the plane? Or even a taxi to and from the airport? The fact is that the process of flying will not just expose one to the 200 or so people on an aircraft but potentially thousands, thanks to the airport and transportation links. But there’s a spot of good news over here. Aircraft manufacturers and airlines are highlighting that the advanced air filtration systems they have onboard the aircraft are effective in stopping the spread of the virus. That may not help if someone around you sneezes but it should prevent an entire aircraft getting infected from a single passenger.
But how can an airline or even the Government assure hygiene within airports, buses and taxis? The problem may not be centred around the aircraft alone but the entire ecosystem. Controlling this might be a lot harder than it seems at first. So returning to the normal of having 10 million domestic air passengers every month is impossible. Starting up airlines will require an immense amount of coordination and planning if we do not want aviation to start spreading the virus again. It would be prudent to start flights similar to what the Indian Railways have done — limited numbers of flights to and from a limited number of airports. At the same time, only those who have the Aarogya Setu application on their devices for a certain period of time so as to get a bit of history, should be allowed to travel. Aggressive contact tracing might even need to be done through the use of Aadhaar, which is India’s only reliable national identity card. Make no mistakes, civil aviation is vital. For a country as large as India, it offers the only fast, reliable and affordable way of covering large distances. If domestic tourism and business is to revive, aviation has to start soon. But we should not take any shortcuts or do any jugaad. We must ensure that all precautions are taken at the start.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)