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Fare caps, protective suits for crew among rules as India begins flights

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Ticket pricing restrictions, protective suits and goggles for flight attendants and no food served on board planes are among the rules proposed by India’s civil aviation ministry on Thursday as it prepares to resume domestic flying within days.

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After a two-month coronavirus shutdown, India’s airlines will be allowed to resume flights with about a third of operations from Monday, but on domestic routes only and with rules that are among the strictest in the world.

The regulations, in effect until Aug. 24, include full body protective gear for airline crew

, temperature checks, face masks and shields for all passengers and a minimum and maximum fare band for airlines, the ministry said.

The gradual opening up of air travel comes as the number of recorded cases of the novel coronavirus in India reached 112,359, the health ministry said, increasing by 5,609 from the previous day - one of the highest single-day rises in recent weeks. Deaths stood at 3,435.

Countries around the world are setting rules for flying as coronavirus lockdowns ease in many places.

“The rules are stringent but may be necessary as there is continuous escalation in infections. However, the fare cap is a bad and an unfortunate decision which will hurt airlines,” said Kapil Kaul, India head at aviation consultancy CAPA.

India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters the decision to regulate fares based on the flight’s duration was to prevent ticket prices from spiking as there is pent-up demand.

For instance, for a two-hour flight between the cities of Mumbai and Delhi airlines will be allowed to charge a minimum fare of 3,500 rupees ($46) and a maximum of 10,000 rupees ($132), while ensuring that 40% of the tickets sold are priced below the median value.

“We are dealing with an extraordinary situation. If you don’t fix it, it is entirely conceivable that fares would have sky-rocketed,” Puri said, adding that the rules would only apply for three months.

“We have to draw a balance between the requirements of the consumer and the viability of airlines.”

Airlines are allowed to sell all seats on board.

Passengers must also register on a government coronavirus tracing application, if they can, or submit a declaration saying they are fit to travel. Anyone who breaks the rules would be liable to legal action.

Airlines including IndiGo, the country’s largest carrier, SpiceJet Ltd, Vistara, a Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines alliance, and state-run Air India were forced to ground planes from March 25.

Reporting by Aditi Shah and Sankalp Phartiyal in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson