India establishes air travel bubbles with US, France, Germany, planning similar pact with UK: Govt


File photo: Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri

File photo: Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri

India has established individual bilateral bubbles with France, Germany and the US that will allow airlines of each country in the pact to operate international flights, said the Civil Aviation Ministry on Thursday.

A similar arrangement with the UK will soon be permitted, it added.

Air France will be operating 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from July 18 to August 1, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said at a press conference.

American carrier United Airlines will be flying 18 flights between India and the US from July 17 to 31, he added.

“They (United) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco,” Puri noted.

The minister on Thursday said India 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,” Puri said.

However, later during the day, the Civil Aviation Ministry issued a statement that said, “Air bubbles established with US, France and Germany…Lufthansa will also be operating (flights).”

The statement also said, “Talk of an air bubble in an advanced stage with the UK.”

From India, Air India will be operating flights to France, Germany and the 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.

On July 9, India had announced an air bubble with the UAE that would be in place from July 12 to 26.

The minister said at the press conference, “Now we have many demands for air bubbles, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle.”

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 coronavirus outbreak, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights on May 25.

However, it had then allowed the airlines to operate maximum 33 per cent of their pre-COVID domestic flights. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) increased the limits on June 26 from 33 per cent to 45 per cent.

“We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we would have 55-60 per cent of pre-COVID domestic flights operating in India,” Puri said at the press conference.

I had imagined we would reach 33 per cent of our domestic capacity by July 15 but we have not, the minister said.

Various states like Maharashtra have put restrictions on the number of flights that their airports can handle per day, he said, adding that he expects this would change in coming 2-3 weeks.

He said once the domestic capacity reaches 50-55 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity, the government will get the confidence about opening international air travel further.

The fact of the matter is that international flights will take place between bigger metros in India and outside locations, the minister mentioned.

Giving the example of the Mumbai airport, he said if more international flights are allowed to Mumbai, those passengers will need forward flights to go to other places in India but that will be a constraint as the airport handles only 50 flights per day.

The India-UAE air bubble was permitted on July 9 under specific conditions.

Charter flights operated by the UAE carriers have been permitted to bring Indian citizens from the UAE to India and carry “ICA-approved UAE residents” on their return leg, said the Civil Aviation Ministry.

The ICA stands for the UAE’s Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship.

On India to the UAE journeys, all these flights have been permitted to carry only those passengers who are destined for the Gulf country, it noted.

The ministry also said, “Indian carriers operating repatriation flights to bring Indian citizens from UAE to India will be allowed to carry the ICA-approved UAE residents (returning to UAE from India) on the outward journey from India to the UAE.”