ISLAMABAD                  -               Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan on Friday announced the government decision to partially restore the domestic flight operations at five major airports of the country including Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar from May 16 (Saturday), which remained suspended for almost 56 days due to the novel coronavirus.

“After a thorough discussion at the forum of National Command and Operation Centre with all concerned especially provincial chief executives, we have taken a unanimous decision to restore the domestic flight operations that were in suspension since March 21, 2020,” the minister made a formal announcement in a video message. “Now, we are going to start the limited flight operations from tomorrow (Saturday) to facilitate the public,” he said, adding Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Serene Air would operate flights between the five major cities.

Initially, Sarwar said, almost 20 percent of the total pre-coronavirus flights would be operated under certain Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) including screening of every passenger with thermal gun, ensuring wearing of face masks and gloves. “The planes will fly with 50 percent seat occupancy to maintain the required social distance among passengers during the travel.”

Meanwhile, the Aviation Division in a news release said the decision about restoration of domestic flights had been taken keeping in view the difficulties being faced by passengers in travelling between the major cities.

“Initially, the PIA and Serene Air will operate the domestic flights, for which the Aviation Division has prepared very strict SOPS, ensuring disinfection, social distancing and safety for both the airlines crew and passengers.”

Under the SOPs, the Aviation Division said disinfection of the aircraft prior to boarding of passengers, maintaining at least one vacant-seat distance between the passengers, wearing of face masks and use of hand sanitizer would be mandatory for the flight operations. Besides, no food and beverages would be allowed during the domestic flights.

The airlines would be required to maintain emergency Personal Protection Equipment in every aircraft to deal with any health emergency during flights.

While, every passenger would fill a health declaration form prior to boarding the aircraft, containing identification of the passenger, brief travel history during past two weeks, current health state and an undertaking to comply with the SOPs.

The air passengers would undergo thermal scanning on arrival and departure at the airports. “Anyone with raised body temperature on visible symptoms of COVID-19 shall be examined by a health professional and required action, if any, shall be taken as per advice of the health professional. No meet and greet at the airport shall be allowed.”

The Aviation Division further advised that the drivers would stay inside the vehicle in the parking lot. “No Protocol would be allowed beyond the briefing area. Social distancing shall be maintained at every stage of departure and arrival formalities. The luggage shall be disinfected prior to loading onto the aircraft and after arrival at the destination.

The Aviation Division said the decision to resume the domestic flight operations had been taken in consultation with all the federating units. “The Civil Aviation Authority has issued the requisite NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) valid upto midnight of June 30, 2020.”