From 3K daily flights pre-lockdown, Indian airports now handle just a few hundred amid restrictions

Hardeep Singh Puri, aviation minister

NEW DELHI: A total of 369 domestic flights carrying 35,055 passengers operated in India till 5 PM on Sunday, said Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.
Domestic services were suspended in India due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown and resumed after a gap of two months on May 25.
Earlier during the day, he said a total of 529 flights carrying 45,646 passengers had operated on Saturday.
Indian carriers operated a total of 2,340 flights till Friday — 428 on Monday, 445 on Tuesday, 460 on Wednesday, 494 on Thursday and 513 on Friday.
“Domestic operations on 31st May till 1700 hrs. Departures 369. 35,055 passengers handled,” Puri said on Twitter on Sunday.
“Domestic operations on 30th May 2020 (Day 6) till 2359 hrs. Departures 529. 45,646 passengers handled. Arrivals 530. 45,622 passengers handled,” he said.
A departure is counted as a flight during the day.
During the pre-lockdown period, Indian airports handled around 3,000 daily domestic flights, aviation industry sources said.
In February, when the lockdown was not imposed, around 4.12 lakh passengers travelled daily through domestic flights in India, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) data.
Airports in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu are handling a restricted number of daily flights as these states do not want a huge influx of flyers amid the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
While domestic services resumed in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday, they restarted in West Bengal on Thursday.

Hotels may have to wait 12-18 months to get back pre-Covid occupancy

KOLKATA: After losing business for nearly a quarter because of the lockdown, the hospitality sector gears up to reopen from June 8 with adequate safety protocols, and hopes to return to the pre-Covid levels within another12- 18 months, an industry official said, quoting an internal survey.
The sector also looks forward to get 20-30 per cent occupancy in June-August and may have to wait till the fourth quarter of this fiscal, January-March 2021, to reach the 50 per cent level, he said on Sunday.
In a guideline issued on Saturday, the Union home ministry said hotels and restaurants will be opened from June 8.
“We welcome the decision to reopen hotels. We had carried out an internal survey and it is found that hotels expect 20-30 per cent demand in the first quarter after lockdown, and to get around 50 per cent demand, they may have to wait till Q4 of the fiscal,” Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India secretary Sudesh Poddar said.
“And it may take 12-18 months for the hotels to get back to the pre-Covid level occupancy,” Poddar told PTI.
In another survey of hotel general managers by HVS Anarock in April, 46 per cent of the respondents said occupancy would be below 40 per cent by Q4 of this financial year.
Some 42 per cent of the general managers who took part in the online survey were more optimistic and they believe that occupancy will reach 50 per cent or near it by the January-March quarter.
The survey was carried out among 180 hotels across categories, HVS South Asia President Mandeep S Lamba said.
According to HVS Anarock, in April, the occupancy in India was down by 81 per cent compared to April 2019.
Singapore had the least impact with just a shade below 30 per cent, followed by China, from where the pandemic originated, with 48 per cent.
However, even with such a drastic fall in occupancy, over 71 per cent of the GMs will not discount their rates by more than 20 per cent, the survey found.
In the top 13 markets of India, the average daily rate in April slipped by 27 per cent and revenue per available room was down by 86 per cent y-o-y.

PM Modi to share his vision on ‘Getting Growth Back’ with India Inc on Tuesday

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will share his vision on ‘Getting Growth Back’ with India Inc during an address at the annual session of industry body CII on Tuesday, sources said.
The address comes at a time when companies are resuming operations following relaxations and gradual easing of the nationwide lockdown, which was imposed on March 25 to curb spreading of coronavirus infections.
The Prime Minister will deliver the inaugural address at the Annual Session of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to mark 125 years since its inception in 1895, sources in the industry chamber told PTI.
The day-long virtual event on the theme ‘Getting Growth Back’ will also witness participation from top corporate honchos like Piramal Group Chairman Ajay Piramal, ITC Ltd CMD Sanjiv Puri, Biocon CMD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, SBI Chairman Rajnish Kumar, Kotak Mahindra Bank CEO and CII President-Designate Uday Kotak and CII President Vikram Kirloskar.
The home ministry on Saturday said ‘Unlock-1’ will be initiated in the country from June 8 under which the nationwide lockdown effectuated on March 25 will be relaxed to a great extent, including opening of shopping malls, restaurants and religious places. However, strict restrictions will remain in place till June 30 in the containment zones.
Various rating agencies and economists have projected a sharp fall in GDP growth for India this fiscal due to the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdown.
Fitch Ratings on May 26 forecast a 5 per cent contraction for the Indian economy in the current fiscal on account of slump in economic activities and very stringent lockdown policy. This is substantially lower than 0.8 per cent growth for 2020-21 fiscal projected in April.
The government has unveiled an over Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package to save the lockdown-battered economy, which focuses on tax breaks for small businesses as well as incentives for domestic manufacturing and other segments.

‘Check and reconfirm’ corona -ve status before operating flight, Air India tells crew

Representative image

NEW DELHI: Air India has asked its pilots and cabin crew to “check and reconfirm” their pre-flight corona test result before operating Vande Bharat flights.
The order comes after an oversight by the team checking these reports of crew members had mistakenly read a captain’s positive report as negative and released him for a ferry Delhi-Moscow flight(meaning with no passengers) to Moscow on Saturday. Once this inadvertent mistake was realised, the aircraft was recalled to Delhi from over Uzbekistan. The DGCA is probing this lapse.
“The Covid-19 test is being conducted by the airline at a substantial cost, with considerable effort. As it is a recent procedure and there is a shortage of staff in office, there is a possibility of an oversight in this matter. The test is primarily designed to mitigate the risk of transmission among the crew. Every effort will be made by the personnel dealing with the testing and rostering of crew to ensure, that the reports are checked before crew are being rostered for a flight,” says a circular issued by AI executive director (operations) Captain R S Sandhu.
It adds, “However, it is imperative that the individual crew member also checks and reconfirms his/her test result. In case of any oversight in this matter, not only are there avoidable adverse operational issues, tarnishing of image of the airline, but also irresponsible exposure of a fellow crew member to this disease. Therefore, it is mandatory for every individual crew member to check and confirm a negative report result, before undertaking a flight. Any laxity in this matter will be dealt with severity.”
The stress level is building up amid AI employees, especially the flying crew who are yet to get their flying allowance since March 2020. This component comprises about 70% of their total pay. AI has been operating hundreds of flights under Vande Bharat Mission. The government has made it mandatory for crew to be tested for corona before being allowed to operate these flights.
“With pay backlog and an uncertain future, we are operating these flights as a ‘national duty’. It takes three months to start a new station (meaning start operating flights to a new city). Here we have flown or are preparing to go to nine new cities (including distant ones like Auckland and Vancouver) in a week. We are working under tremendous work pressure and unprecedented uncertainty. The fact that we are doing so with pay due for three months now only adds to the pressure. This is our condition,” say AI pilots while describing the mental state of the airline’s staffers.

529 domestic flights carrying 45,646 passengers operated on Saturday: HS Puri

NEW DELHI: A total of 529 flights carrying 45,646 passengers operated on Saturday, said civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Sunday.
Domestic services were suspended in India due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown and resumed after a gap of two months on Monday.
Indian carriers operated a total of 2,340 flights till Friday – 428 on Monday, 445 on Tuesday, 460 on Wednesday, 494 on Thursday and 513 on Friday.
Puri said on Twitter on Sunday: “Domestic operations on 30th May 2020 (Day 6) till 2359 hrs. Departures 529. 45,646 passengers handled. Arrivals 530. 45,622 passengers handled.”

A departure is counted as a flight during the day.
During the pre-lockdown period, Indian airports handled around 3,000 daily domestic flights, aviation industry sources said.
In February, when the lockdown was not imposed, around 4.12 lakh passengers travelled daily through domestic flights in India, according to directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) data.
Airports in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu have been allowed to handle a restricted number of daily flights as these states do not want a huge influx of flyers amid the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
While domestic services resumed in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday, they restarted in West Bengal on Thursday.

Reliance on track to achieve zero net debt: Report

NEW DELHI: Riding on the Rs 1.3 lakh crore in aggregate fund raising in the last few weeks, Reliance Industries is expected to repay its entire reported net debt even if the Saudi Aramco deal is delayed, a brokerage report said.
The company, controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, has sold minority stakes in its digital arm to Facebook and private equity firms such as Silver Lake, Vista Equity, KKR and General Atlantic to raise a cumulative Rs 78,562 crore. Also, the company is raising Rs 53,125 crore through a rights issue.
“We analysed RIL’s balance sheet following the recent deal-making. Having raised, on aggregate, Rs 1.3 lakh crore in equity over the past month, we expect the company to repay its entire reported net debt of Rs 1.6 lakh crore in 2020-21, even if the Aramco deal is delayed,” Edelweiss said in a research report on the company.
Adjusted net debt, however, at Rs 2.57 lakh crore is higher and would take longer to repay.
“That said, we expect concerns on leverage to be gradually allayed as asset sales continue and tapering capex generates positive free cash flow (FCF),” it said.
With telecom arm Jio’s capital expenditure (capex) largely complete, RIL should generate FCF of more than Rs 20,000 crore in FY21 (same as FY20) despite weaker oil and gas earnings.
“We expect RIL to monetise 20 per cent of Jio; this along with partial proceeds from the rights issue and sale of (49 per cent of) fuel retail (to BP for Rs 7,000 crore), not to mention FCF, would lead to cash proceeds of Rs 1.3 lakh crore, thereby putting the company on the path to zero net debt in FY21,” the brokerage said.
However, adjusted net debt (creditor capex plus spectrum liability) is much higher at Rs 2.57 lakh crore.
“To repay this, RIL will need to tap into its massive divestment pipeline of oil-to-chemical (O2C) assets (Rs 1 lakh crore) and fibre InvIT (Rs 1.2 lakh crore). Progress on this front would, therefore, continue to allay market concerns around leverage,” it noted.
Even a 5 per cent stake sale of O2C assets to Saudi Aramco (versus talks of 20 per cent) can help fill the shortfall, it said.
The Aramco deal was to conclude by March 2020 but it is now expected within 2020 calendar year.
When RIL announced its rights issue of Rs 53,125 crore on April 30, it was perceived as part of the company’s aim to become net debt-free by March 2021. But with shareholders needing to pay only 25 per cent of the rights issue price on application, the proceeds will be Rs 13,281 crore in total and cannot be a major source of debt reduction plan.
The remaining portion of the rights issue price is to be paid next fiscal.
With major refining and telecom projects achieving completion, capex in FY20 slid to Rs 76,000 crore from the high of about Rs 1 lakh crore in FY19.
“We expect capex to decline further to Rs 46,000 crore in FY21, offsetting lower operating cash flow from oil and gas,” it said.
As a result, FCF is expected to remain steady at over Rs 20,000 crore in FY21. “Self sufficiency in operations has the added advantage of freeing up asset sales for deleveraging,” it said.

Govt decision to open shopping centres from June 8 will help ease pressure: SCAI

NEW DELHI: The government‘s decision to allow shopping centres and malls to open from June 8 will help ease enormous pressure that the industry was facing due to the lockdown, Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) said on Saturday.
Welcoming the steps announced in the fresh guidelines by the Home Ministry, SCAI Chairman Amitabh Taneja said, “Revival and resurgence is a long process, which has just about begun”.
“The relaxation is certainly going to help ease an unimaginable amount of pressure that was put on the industry following the lockdown.”
Taneja said SCAI will await further information from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) to ensure the guidelines are followed in letter and spirit.
Pacific Malls Executive Director Abhishek Bansal hailed the decision and said: “We will follow all the guidelines of central and state governments and will run our malls responsibly”.
Ambience group’s Aman Gehlot too welcomed the decision. The company has shopping malls in Delhi and Gurugram.
Shopping centres and malls were shut after the government imposed nationwide lockdown from May 25 to control the spread of the coronavirus disease. This resulted in huge revenue losses for both mall owners and their tenants — retailers, cinemas and food businesses.

Canada Revenue Agency braces for June 1 tax deadline after fielding nearly 3 million calls

If you have some last-minute questions about your annual tax returns, the Canada Revenue Agency is bracing for your call.

The federal tax agency is approaching the revised June 1 tax deadline after several weeks of fielding an unprecedented volume of calls — nearly three million phone calls since the COVID-19 pandemic struck Canada and the world.

The agency, which employs more than 40,000 workers across the country, quickly started moving a large portion of its workforce, including call centre employees, to work from home just as COVID-19 started triggering economic lockdowns across the country.

READ MORE: CEWS vs. CERB: How the two benefits fit together and who may have to return payments

But as many other businesses were shutting down or suspending operations, the CRA faced a relentless stream of calls about new and revised COVID-19 support programs such as the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), the Canada emergency student benefit (CESB), the Canada emergency wage subsidy (CEWS), as well as top ups for the GST rebate and the Canada child-care benefit.

Story continues below advertisement

“We forecast that this increased demand will continue throughout the coming months due to the extension of [the wage subsidy] and tax payment deadlines, as well as the ongoing [emergency response benefit] and [emergency student benefit] programs,” said CRA spokesman Etienne Biram.

“Since the launch of CERB in early April, the CRA’s call centre agents have answered roughly 3 million calls from Canadians on a range of subjects including CERB, CEWS, and CESB, as well as questions related to tax filing, benefits, and account access.”

Yves-Francois Blanchet outraged that Liberals, Conservatives using wage subsidy to “fund themselves”

Yves-Francois Blanchet outraged that Liberals, Conservatives using wage subsidy to “fund themselves”

In a normal tax season, the agency estimates it would need up to about 3,000 employees to respond to phone calls, but it has been forced to substantially increase that total due to the demand.

Story continues below advertisement

Already, thousands of existing employees have offered to take on new roles to help respond to all of the urgent calls coming in from Canadians, as some of their other duties are temporarily suspended or not considered to be critical.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“We were blown away by the response, when over 7,000 employees volunteered,” said Biram.

“In fact, it was beyond our current needs, meaning we selected the most uniquely qualified based on skillsets, many of whom who had previous work experience in our call centres.”

READ MORE: Canadian tax deadline 2020: What’s different amid COVID-19

Employees and management at the agency have been trying to navigate through all of these urgent programs in the midst of a major labour dispute.

Public servants at the CRA have been working without a collective agreement since October 2016, and were considering strike action before cases of the novel coronavirus started to erupt around the world.

But its largest union quickly decided to postpone plans for a strike vote in March, agreeing to work with the employer as the emerging crisis started to overwhelm its call centres.

Marc Brière, president of the Union of Taxation Employees, which includes the majority of the agency’s workforce, said that the agency’s public servants demonstrated they were open to “collaborating greatly” with management.

Story continues below advertisement

The agency also said it moved about 400 of its collection agents, who were already working in a call centre role, to new duties in late April.

This required them to take calls from Canadians about the COVID-related support programs. The union agreed with this idea.

READ MORE: ‘People are livid’: Advocates call on feds to make airlines give refunds amid COVID-19

But not everything has gone smoothly.

The union objected after hearing management had also asked other collection agents to switch roles to assist with the high call volumes.

The agency wanted to move some of the 4,300 collection agents into temporary roles after suspending collection activities on new debts on March 16. But it failed to notify union officials about the proposed change.

The union said it was concerned that any decisions to force employees to move into new roles would violate their rights and potentially affect how they would be treated in the future.

“I just couldn’t let it go,” Brière said.

He said the level of complaints from employees at different locations prompted him to post a public message on the union’s website, on May 15, to ensure employees knew they could refuse to take on assignments that were unrelated to their job descriptions.

Story continues below advertisement

“Basically, the message was to say that we’re there, we still want to collaborate, we need to be consulted. They [the CRA] acknowledged it and we’re good to go,” Brière said.

It is not entirely clear how the suspension of most collection activities has altered the workload of the other collection agents, but the agency said these employees are still looking at collecting some debts, on a case-by-case basis and performing other “non-critical collection activities such as inventory management, responding to inbound requests related to financial hardship and engaging in training and learning opportunities.”

The agency and the union say they continue to negotiate about whether to temporarily move these collection agents into other duties required to support emergency measures.

“Things are going fast with the pandemic,” said Brière. “All the decisions are being made a lot faster… And the government has put a lot on the shoulders of the CRA.”

You can find information about how to reach the Canada Revenue Agency call centre over here or by dialing 1-833-966-2099.

Story continues below advertisement

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Visa applications: USCIS to resume premium processing

(Representative image)

MUMBAI: The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the immigration arm of the US government has announced a phased opening of premium processing for various visa applications.
On June 1, premium processing will be open for all eligible employment-based green card (I-140) applications. From June 8, requests for premium processing can be filed for H-1B applications that are pending adjudication and those that are cap-exempt (certain category of US employers such as higher educational institutions, are not subject to the annual H-1B quotas).
Premium processing for H-1B cap subject applications will not begin until the last phase of the time-line which is expected to start on June 22. These dates may be subject to change, cautions USCIS.
Employers sponsoring H-1B employees find premium processing useful, as USCIS is required to make a decision on an application within 15 days. Currently the fee is $ 1,440 per application, but speculation is that an increase will be announced shortly, especially as USCIS is strapped for funds.
Premium processing also helps take care of the cap-gap situation for international students who post their optional training program are migrating to an H-1B. These students need to stop work on October 1, if their H-1B application is still pending.
H-1B cap visas have an annual quota of 65,000 in the general category and 20,000 in the Masters category (for which beneficiaries holding US advanced degrees are eligible). As mentioned by TOI earlier, for the current filing season – which would enable selected beneficiaries to start work from October 1, USCIS received 2.75 lakh registrations, nearly 67.7% or 1.86 lakh were for those from India. The lottery or random selection process then helps USCIS select the applications to keep to the limited quota.
Meanwhile, more than half of the immigration agency’s 18,700 employees may be furloughed beginning in July. To prevent this and to enable USCIS to carry out its operations, it has asked for a government funding of $ 1.2 billion.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) points out that furloughs of this magnitude will undoubtedly cripple the USCIS’ ability to carry out its mission – work and visa applications, asylum and citizenship/naturalization applications, green cards, and refugee applications will not be processed. USCIS plays an extremely important role in facilitating lawful immigration, helping immigrants attain a legal status as permanent residents and if they meet all criteria, eventually becoming U.S. citizens, it adds.

Maruti extends warranty, service timelines till June end

(Representative image)

NEW DELHI: The country’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) on Saturday said it has decided to extend warranty and service timelines for customers by a month owing to the current situation.
The company has decided to offer the free service, warranty and extended warranty to the customers till June end, whose validity is expiring in May, MSI said in a statement.
This initiative will give an opportunity to the customers who could not avail the previous service and warranty benefits due to lockdown, it added.