India has signed bilateral agreements with France and the US to resume flights from and to both the countries starting 17 July, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said today, explaining the concept that he calls “air bubbles”. The minister said he was working out similar arrangements with Germany and the UK too.
“Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-COVID numbers, I think the answer lies in bilateral air bubbles which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions including India,” the minister said at a news conference. American carrier United Airlines will run 18 flights between India and the US from 17 to 31 July. Air France will operate 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from 18 July to 1 August, he said.
“They (United) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco,” Puri said.
The minister said India is planning to establish such agreements 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,” Puri said.
“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 said.
From India, Air India will operate flights to France and the US under these air bubbles.
The announcement of these air bubbles comes weeks after the US threatened to take action, accusing India of “unfair and discriminatory practices” for running exclusive paid flights under its “Vande Bharat Mission” to bring back Indians from other countries.
Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since 23 March because of the COVID pandemic.
After nearly two months of suspension to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights on 25 May.
However, it had then allowed the airlines to operate a maximum of 33% of their pre-COVID domestic flights. The civil aviation ministry increased the limits on 26 June from 33% to 45%.
Also, in between, India operated multiple flights to carry home its people stranded abroad amid the worldwide lockdown.
“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 at the news conference.