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Despite Covid-19’s long, gloomy shadow on international travel showing no signs of abating anytime soon, this might be a good time to address one of the longest standing demands of Kiwi-Indians that has so far gone frustratingly unmet.

It’s the contentious one about direct flights between India and New Zealand.

Kiwi-Indians have been pressing for direct flights for more than a decade and have left no stone unturned in trying to pursue politicians in the two governments and the airlines of the two countries to make this happen.

Airways agreements between the two governments have been in place for a few years now, which makes flights possible but a resolution to the problem has remained elusive for a number of reasons that are mostly attributed to economic feasibility.

But this is not about discussing the merits and demerits of those arguments. Rather, this is about how Covid-19 could actually lead to direct flights between the two countries.

Though the possibility of international travel looks remote at this point in time, borders will eventually open – but things will not be the same again. One can safely say that it will not be business as usual when international travel resumes. Strict measures to eliminate or at the very least minimise the possibility of any spread of Covid-19 will be put in in the entire travel process.

One logical and fool-proof measure is to eliminate the reliance on aviation’s reliance on hub-and-spoke infrastructure as much as possible. Hub-and-spoke airports are where large numbers of people from different parts of the world briefly spend time to change planes to get to their onward destinations.

By their very nature, these hub-and-spoke environments have a high potential of spreading infectious diseases because of the sheer volume of traffic that passes through them. Moreover, measures like contact tracing will be impossible to implement, much less monitor and share information between healthcare authorities of countries.

Point-to-point travel has the potential to eliminate the possibility of the spread if correct procedures are followed and contact tracing would be far easier and practicable. As international travel begins to open up, airlines will undoubtedly be forced to reconsider point-to-point flights and opt for it when practically possible.

And as we have known for many years now, direct flights between New Zealand and India are absolutely possible as far as range and aircraft types available at both ends are concerned. Any niggling doubts have been fully removed by the successful repatriation flights flown by India’s national carrier Air India throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

At this time, the resumption of passenger flights between New Zealand and any country, let alone India, look distant. But it can safely be presumed that health and safety will override commercial considerations when flights resume and regardless of the costs involved airlines will be forced to minimise health risks.

Minimising if not eliminating the reliance on the hub-and-spoke model will be imperative. Direct flights wherever possible will become the norm at least in the medium term as long as the all-pervasive fear of Covid-19-like diseases dominate most human activity.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender on July 9, 2020: