By Cassandra Garrison
BUENOS AIRES, Sept 4 (Reuters) – Argentina could resume international commercial flights in October, a transport ministry source said on Friday, indicating a potential light at the end of the tunnel for one of the world’s strictest travel bans due to the coronavirus.
The start of flights next month would give companies the 30 days they need to prepare for the restart of their operations, the source said, cautioning that higher approval was still pending.
“The president has the final decision,” the person said.
Transport Minister Mario Meoni said on Thursday that new passenger and airport protocols for international travel had been fine-tuned and approved by the Ministry of Health, a requirement that the government stated previously for lifting a strict travel ban that was due to expire on Sept. 1.
“In the next few days, we will be able to announce the return of international flights. All of this takes time because scheduling flights is not easy,” Meoni said at a public event.
The ministry would also submit a proposal to President Alberto Fernandez for the restart of domestic flights next month, Meoni added.
Argentina surprised the airline industry and passengers in April when it announced a total ban on commercial airline flights until September, one of the strictest bans in the world. The South American nation has largely been in isolation since March 20 due to restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.
The government has extended lockdown restrictions, including the flight ban, as it struggles to contain the virus. It reported 12,026 new cases on Thursday, a record daily high, and now has counted over 450,000 total infections.
Airline industry group IATA criticized Argentina’s decision to extend the flight ban, saying the country is now the largest market in the region where aviation remains suspended.
“Continued procrastination by the government will further reduce the country’s international connectivity,” said Peter Cerda, IATA’s vice president for the Americas.
“From an industry perspective, we would not want the country to become another Venezuela, which over the years has gone from being one of the key aviation markets on the continent to now having very limited international connectivity,” Cerda said.