With no customers to fly, India's aviation sector has got into war mode with goods, criss-crossing the country--and abroad--with massive cargo haul to ensure availability of supplies, particularly medical cargo. Air India, Spice Jet, IndiGo, Go Air, Air Asia and Blue Dart have run 626 flights since lockdown began, logging over 7 lakh kms with 4,300 tonnes of cargo.
They are transporting light-weight and heavy products such as gloves, masks, and other consumables that require larger storage space on the aircraft.
SpiceJet has thus far operated 286 cargo flights - including 87 international flights - covering over 4 lakh km and carrying over 2,330 tonnes of cargo.
Blue Dart operated 94 domestic cargo flights covering a distance of 92,075 km and carrying 1,479 tonnes of cargo.
IndiGo operated 25 cargo flights covering a distance of 21,906 km and carrying around 21.77 tonnes of cargo. This also includes medical supplies carried free of cost for the government.
While flying these special flights, the focus is given to provide medical supplies to north-east regional, island territories and the hill stations.
"The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the aviation industry is determined to support India's war against COVID-19 by transporting medical air-cargo within India and abroad in the most efficient and cost-effective manner," said the statement from the aviation ministry.
To ensure that medical supplies can be transported to and fro on the international routes, the ministry has already started an air-bridge system - from April 4 - through which 85 tonnes of medical cargo has been brought into the country from regions like Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Besides, Air India has supplied 13 tonnes of cargo to Colombo through the same air-bridge facility, and will continue to operate medical cargo flights to other countries as and when there's requirement.
As per the aviation ministry, some regulatory modifications had to be done to make this happen. For instance, the special cargo flights can utilise the passenger cabin of aircraft for carriage of cargo. Besides, there's a waiver of demurrage up to 50 per cent on import cargo at airports, and extension of validity of certificates of dangerous goods such as chemicals used for medicines.
With the passenger revenues coming down to zero following the 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25, the airlines are focussing on cargo revenues to keep the momentum going.
As per consultancy CAPA India, the domestic aviation sector is expected to incur losses of up to $3.6 billion in June quarter owing to grounding of nearly all international and domestic flights.
Though airlines like IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir and AirAsia continue to take domestic flight bookings from April 15 onwards. National carrier has suspended its international and domestic bookings till April 30.