New Delhi, May 25: The Supreme Court on Monday allowed national carrier Air India to operate international flight service with the middle seats occupied for the next ten days. The court was hearing a petition filed by the Centre and Air India after the Bombay High Court questioned why the airline was not keeping the middle seats vacant in international flights.

“Air India shall be allowed to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle seats booking for next 10 days,” Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde said, The Hindustan Times reported.

The Bombay high court, while hearing a petition of a pilot, had sought a response from the Air India and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The pilot, Deven Kanani, in his plea claimed a circular issued by the Government of India on March 23, 2020 laid some conditions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 while bringing back Indians stranded abroad due to the pandemic.

However, the condition pertaining to keeping the middle seat between two passengers empty was not being followed by the Air India, he said in the plea.

Kanani submitted photographs of an Air India flight operated between San Francisco and Mumbai where all seats were occupied.

Air India counsel Abhinav Chandrachud opposed the plea and told the high court that the circular of March 23 has been now superseded with a new circular issued by the Government of India on May 22, 2020 while permitting domestic flights to operate from May 25. The new circular does not say the middle seat needs to be kept empty, Chandrachud told the court.

A division bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and Abhay Ahuja on Friday, however, noted that a cursory glance at the circular dated May 22 indicates that it applies only to domestic operations and not to international operations.

The bench directed Air India and DGCA to file affidavits clarifying their stand, and posted the petition for further hearing on June 2.

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