Business as usual for civil aviation, taking coronavirus head-on: Minister

Topics Coronavirus | Aviation

The minister said Indian airports have so far screened 1.17 million international passengers for possible coronavirus infection, of which 3,225 underwent further examination.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Saturday said there was no need for any contingency plan for the aviation sector in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak as the impact of global contagion was a only a brief passing phase.

"No one has asked for any contingency plan or a bailout package even though issues like bringing Aircraft Turbine Fuel (ATF), which forms 40 per cent of the operational cost of an airline, under the GST, were matters the Ministry has been dealing with as we meet the stake-holders to understand their issues on a regular basis," Puri said after attending the CEOs forum deliberations held at Wings India 2020 summit.

The minister assured that bringing ATF under the GST regime, extending credit for one month to the airlines by the oil companies or adjusting the rates every 15 days instead of one month etc., would be done soon even though these issues were not specific to the current situation. The meeting has discussed matters like aviation financing and leasing, capacity building, aviation safety and security, UAVs among other things, according to him.

The Civil Aviation Minister asserted that the agencies under his ministry were able to effectively monitor airports against the spread of new coronavirus contagion without causing any uncertainty and panic in the minds of the people.

"There may be a 15-20 per cent drop in domestic passenger traffic due to the virus threat but it is a temporary passing phase. We not only overcome this challenge but will also emerge as a robust aviation market in the future," Puri said. He added that the country will have 1,200 aircraft in next few years, going by the orders placed by some Indian operators.

Referring to the passenger growth estimates, the minister also said India was going to touch the one-billion-passenger mark from the current 345-million level much ahead of 2035 as projected. From airport operators to airline companies to those in training and maintenance will all work independently to make use of the aviation industry's growth potential as the Government's policy support and the ecosystem will ensure that the present challenge would eventually become an opportunity.

The minister said Indian airports have so far screened 1.17 million international passengers for possible coronavirus infection, of which 3,225 underwent further examination.

"Our airports today constitute a benchmark for every airport in the world on response to a situation like this," Puri added. He defended the Ministry's decision to go ahead with Wings India 2020 summit, stating that it was business as usual for the industry and the government are acting against the coronavirus challenge so as to "emerge stronger once the problem is behind us, instead of acting in panic".

On the future of the aviation sector in the country, Puri revealed that several companies have been in touch with the Ministry on starting Maintenance and Repair (MRO) and other operations in India to serve the aviation sector.

On aircraft safety concerns involving the engine issues, the minister said the engines were replaced for 230 out of 300 aircraft.

He appealed to the states to come on board for bringing Aircraft Turbine Fuel under the GST to help the airline industry.

Responding to a question on Air India's sale process, Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the Ministry has received 600 queries for the preliminary memorandum issued by the Ministry and those queries are being addressed. He said the system of divestment of Air India was fairly at an advanced stage.

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