Airlines operators take issues with government over its move to allow them to fly half emptyDomestic carriers say they are not going to operate any scheduled passengers flights until the government rolls back its decision.
A day after the government officially announced allowing domestic airlines to resume services from Thursday, private operators on Wednesday criticized the diktat, saying they cannot fly the planes half empty.
The operators have decided not to fly any scheduled passenger flights until the government rolls back its decision to allow them to fly only with half of the capacity.
“The decision to fly 50 percent empty in the name of preventing coronavirus transmission is not justifiable,” said Birendra Bahadur Basnet, managing director of Buddha Air. “So we have decided not to fly planes.”
The government had halted domestic flights from March 24 to contain the spread of the virus. All the domestic airlines planes have been grounded since.
“Domestic airlines have finally been allowed to resume operations after six months and it’s not logical to ask them to fly half empty while following safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus,” Basnet told the Post.
Operators said that hundreds of chartered flights have already been conducted by international airlines and now regular flights have also been permitted, but they don’t have the requirement to fly half empty.
The Airlines Operators’ Association of Nepal, the umbrella body of the private airlines operators, sent a memorandum to the Tourism Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal on Wednesday that the operators are ready to fly by abiding strict health and safety protocols set by the government but cannot operate keeping 50 percent of the seats empty.
Making Monday’s Cabinet decision public on Tuesday, the government spokesperson Pradeep Gyawali said at a press briefing that domestic airlines have to fly 50 percent empty by putting passengers on a single row of the seats. He said that airfares will be increased and the civil aviation body will determine it.
However, operators said that the airline industry, which has remained closed for six months, will not be able to operate flights with half the number of passengers.
“Domestic airlines are allowed to fly in almost all countries but there are no such provisions—flying half empty,” said Anil Manandhar, corporate manager of Shree Airlines. “Even if the civil aviation body allows airlines to double the existing airfares, the airfare structure will discourage passengers from flying.”
The domestic operators said they have multiple layers of protection in place, including mandatory face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight Covid-19 symptom checklist.
On the airplane, mostly in the international sector, one of the biggest debates has been over whether middle seats should be empty.
According to Reuters, in Malaysia and Indonesia, the plane needs to be half-empty. However, Malaysia Airlines domestic flights have been exempt from the requirement to fly half-empty.
In the United States and Europe, it’s not mandatory for airlines to leave the middle seat open. Aircraft in China are allowed to fly with a full load of passengers.
In many countries, operators argue that an aircraft is not a natural place to enforce social-distancing, so to mitigate the health risks, there are other means in place, mostly using facial masks.