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India extends suspension of international flights till August 31

NEW DELHI, July 31: Aviation regulator DGCA on Friday extended the suspension of scheduled international flights to and from the country till August 31. However, this restriction will not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by the DGCA.

“The government has decided to extend the suspension on the scheduled international commercial passenger services to/ from India up to 2359 hours IST of 31st August,” the DGCA said in a statement.

Earlier, DGCA had on July 3 extended the ban on international flights until July 31 after it was suspended till July 15. According to senior government officials, the ban was extended because it was felt that it would take some more time for India to prepare before it can resume scheduled international operations.

To allow gradual movement of passenger traffic during the Covid-19 health crisis, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had also announced ‘Air Bubble’ agreements with the United States, France and Germany. Air France and American carrier United Airlines has operated limited flights to India from Paris and the US.

As of July 13, Air India and Air India Express operated 1103 flights bringing back 2,08,000 Indians under Vande Bharat Mission. “On many of these flights, we ferried back 85289 passengers to various countries across the world,” said Air India CMD Rajiv Bansal.

Puri also said that by Diwali this year, at least 55-60 per cent of pre-Covid domestic flights will be operating in India.

Domestic passenger flight services resumed in the country from May 25, two months after the announcement of the lockdown and suspension of all scheduled commercial passenger flights in India.

ICJ rules in favour of Qatar in international airspace dispute

By Deepak Arora

THE HAGUE, July 14: The UN's top court has ruled in favour of Qatar over an airspace dispute involving four other Middle Eastern countries.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected an appeal, brought by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which called into question the authority of the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO).

The background to the case involves a package of sanctions brought against Qatar in 2017 by the four countries, including the closure of Qatar’s sole land border, with Saudi Arabia; blocking Qatari ships from docking at their ports; and an air blockade, preventing Qatari aircraft from entering their airspace.

The sanctions were imposed in retaliation for Qatar’s alleged support for groups that the plaintiff nations view as terrorist organizations, which, they say, violates agreements aimed at improving diplomatic relations in the region.

Qatar rejects the allegations, arguing that the air blockade goes against the 1944 Convention on Civil Aviation, the international agreement which led to the creation of ICAO, the UN’s international aviation agency.

Qatar decided to fight the blockade by taking the case to the ICAO, but the plaintiff nations complained that only the ICJ has the authority to decide on the dispute, arguing that the case goes beyond solely civil aviation matters. However, on Tuesday, that complaint was not upheld by the ICJ judges, who ruled that the ICAO is competent to hear the case.

In a tweet, the State of Qatar welcomed the decision, and the country’s Minister of Transport and Communication, Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti, reportedly expressed his confidence that the ICAO will find in Qatar’s favour, and rule that the air blockade is unlawful.

The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at The Hague responded with a tweet confirming that the country will now put its legal case to ICAO, supporting its right to close its airspace to Qatari aircraft, and the country’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Hissa Abdullah Al Otaiba, reportedly described the ICJ decision as “technical and limited to procedural issues and jurisdiction to address the dispute”, which has nothing to do with the merits of the case itself.

Now that jurisdiction has been decided, the ICAO is expected to deliver a final ruling on the air blockade next year.

India Announces 'Air Bubbles' With US, France

NEW DELHI, July 16: India has signed bilateral agreements with France and the US that will allow airlines of each country to operate international flights starting Friday, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Thursday, adding that similar arrangements with Germany and the UK are being worked out too.

"Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-COVID numbers, I think the answer lies in bilateral air bubbles which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions including India," the minister said at a news conference.

American carrier United Airlines will be flying 18 flights between India and the US from July 17 to July 31 and Air France will be operating 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from July 18 to August 1, he said.

"They (United) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco," Puri said.

The minister said India is planning to establish such agreements with the UK soon under which there would be two flights per day between Delhi and London.

"We have got a request from Germans also. I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost done... We are processing that request," Puri said.

"Now we have many demands for air bubbles, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle," the minister said.

From India, Air India will be operating flights to France and US under these bubbles.

The announcement comes weeks after the US accused India of "unfair and discriminatory practices" for running exclusive paid flights under its "Vande Bharat Mission" to bring back Indians from other countries.

Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After nearly two months of suspension to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights on May 25.

However, it had then allowed the airlines to operate maximum 33 per cent of their pre-COVID domestic flights. The Civil Aviation Ministry increased the limits on June 26 from 33 per cent to 45 per cent.

"We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we would have 55-60 per cent of pre-COVID domestic flights operating in India," Puri said at the news conference.

British Airways retires entire fleet of Boeing’s jumbo jets

LONDON, July 17: British Airways, the world’s largest operator of Boeing 747, said late Thursday it would retire its entire jumbo jet fleet with immediate effect due to the downturn in travel industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Global curbs imposed to stem the spread of the virus led to a turbulence in air travel, placing the future of many airline companies in doubt.

“It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again,” the company said in a statement.

British Airways, which is owned by International Consolidated Airlines Group, added that it will operate more flights on modern, fuel-efficient aircraft such as its new A350s and 787s and expects such aircraft to help in achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

A wave of restructuring triggered by the virus outbreak is hitting airlines and industrial firms across the world.

The Sun reported last month that British Airways had reached an agreement with its pilots to sack 350 and another 300 in ‘pool’ for rehiring when needed.

The majority of pilots being ‘pooled’ were expected to be the jumbo jet first officers, according to the report.

Boeing Co’s 747, a plane that democratized global air travel in the 1970s but fell behind modern twin-engine aircraft, marked its 50-year flying anniversary in February 2019.

The US-based aerospace company and its suppliers signalled the end of the plane, when they set the final number of parts it would need for the 747 jumbo jet program at least a year ago.

However, the decision was left in limbo for years amid falling orders and pricing pressure.

Air India ends work-from-home for most employees from July 20

NEW DELHI, July 15: National carrier Air India on Wednesday announced that all its offices will operate at full strength from July 20, adding that those not reporting to work will be marked absent. However, it made an exception for employees residing in containment zones, but asked them to keep the office posted about the status of the containment.

“It has now been decided that Air India offices will function at full strength from July 20 and no separate roster for functioning under Covid situation is to be operated. Employees who do not attend office will have to apply for leave or shall be marked absent,” said the airline.

It further advised all department heads to ensure that norms of social distancing and proper sanitisation and other related measures are strictly followed through.

“Work from home option can be considered for employees who are at higher risk due to medical conditions, pregnant women and employees staying in containment zones,” it said.

In another order, the airline said it has begun the process of sending some employees on leave without pay ranging from six months or two years that can also be extended up to five years, it said in an official staff order issued on Tuesday.

The scheme is being introduced for some employees to opt on a voluntary basis as well and can be availed for “personal reasons”.

“This Scheme (LWP) is being introduced for grant of leave without pay and allowances for permanent- employees, for a period of six months (extendable upto 5 years) or for a period of two years (extendable upto 5 years) at the discretion of the Management,” the order said.

This Scheme shall be applicable to permanent employees of the company.

“Board of Directors in its l02nd meeting held on 7th July,2020 has approved a Scheme whereby employees can opt to take Leave Without Pay ranging from six months or for two years and the same can be extendable upto five years,” the order said.

“The Scheme also authorises CMD to pass an order on behalf and in the name of the Company whereby an employee would be sent on leave for six months or for a period of two years extendable upto five years, depending upon...suitability, efficiency, competence, quality of performance, health of the employee, instance of non-availability of the employee for duty in the past, as a result of ill health or otherwise and redundancy,” it added.

The policy approved by the board states that departmental heads at headquarters and regional directors of the region are required to assess each individual on the above mentioned factors and identity the cases where option of compulsory leave without pay can be exercised.

To streamline the process of identification of redundant manpower who would be told to proceed on compulsory leave without pay a committee of The respective Regional Directors will be constituted comprising General Manager (Personnel), General Manager(Finance) and concerned Departmental Head.

The Committee would go through the records, based on the above factors and will recommend the individuals whose names will be forwarded to headquarters with due recommendations of Regional Director for obtaining approval of CMD, for compulsory leave.

Cabin crew to be better equipped to prevent human trafficking

By Deepak Arora

Montréal, July 8: United Nations efforts to prevent trafficking in persons took an important step forward today, with the launch of the new online training to support the implementation of the ICAO-OHCHR Guidelines for Training Cabin Crew on Identifying and Responding to Trafficking in Persons.

Developed in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the free e-learning course explores the unique opportunities cabin crew have to observe passengers over the duration of their flights and potentially identify and assist human trafficking victims. Additional course elements will also be of value to airport and other aviation industry professionals.

“The entire global aviation community has a key role to play in preventing trafficking in persons,” stressed ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu. “The development of the new training, based on the ICAO-OHCHR guidelines provides an important foundation from which we can offer critical capacity-building, and ultimately help put an end to the abuse of international air transport by traffickers.”

“Human trafficking is an appalling crime and an appalling violation of victims’ rights. This is why the efforts of the international air transport sector in combatting it are so important. This expansion of training for cabin crew and the wider travel industry is a crucial element in protecting the human rights of some of the most vulnerable people,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

The International Labour Office reports that 1-in-200 people worldwide are still being forced into work and living conditions resulting from trafficking in persons, a practice considered akin to modern slavery.

Reflecting the fact that many of these victims were moved from country to country via commercial aircraft, the ICAO-OHCHR training launched today also includes video interviews with trafficking survivors and airlines who already train their cabin crew on this subject.

The new ICAO-OHCHR training to combat trafficking in persons for cabin crew must be supplemented by further airline training on specific internal procedures and practices. It is accessible to cabin crew members and other aviation professionals through ICAO’s e-learning portal.



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