Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday said that the government has established individual bilateral bubbles with France and the US that will allow airlines of each country in the pact to operate international flights. The minister said that similar arrangement with Germany and the UK will soon be permitted.
From India, Air India will be operating flights to France and US under these bubbles. An air bubble is a bilateral arrangement with a set of regulations and restrictions in which the carriers of the two countries can operate international flights.
Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. After nearly two months of suspension to combat the virus, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights on May 25. However, here also airlines were initially allowed to operate maximum 33% of their pre-Covid domestic flights. On June 26, the civil aviation ministry further increased the limits to 45%. “We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we would have 55-60% of pre-Covid domestic flights operating in India,” Puri said.
With regard to international flights under the bubbles pact, Air France will be operating 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from July 18 to August 1, while American carrier United Airlines will be flying 18 flights between India and the US from July 17 to July 31.
“They (United) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco,” Puri said, adding that the government is planning to establish a bubble with the UK soon under which there would be two flights per day between Delhi and London. “We have got a request from Germans also. I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost done…We are processing that request. Now we have many demands for air bubbles, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle,” the minister noted.
Speaking about the progress of the Vande Bharat Mission, Puri said more than 6.87 lakh people have been repatriated under the mission as on July 15. Of this, Air India accounted for over 2.15 lakh passengers, private airlines carried 12,258 passengers and around 1.35 lakh opted for private charter flights. Air India CMD Rajiv Bansal said that Air India and Air India Express ferried back around 85,000 passengers to various countries. He also said that Air India has brought down the international fares and would be brought down further.
“The fares from India to the UAE were in the range of Rs 13,000-15,000 and were very reasonable. To the US and Canada, they were in the range of Rs 1 lakh. We have brought down the fares by around 25% to Rs 75,000 currently. But, going forward, we will bring it down further. Similarly, for the UK and Europe, the fares have come down and will further come down as we move forward,” he noted.