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International Flights Likely to Start in August, Will Fly to US, EU, Gulf Countries Under Bilateral Agreement

File photo Terminal 3. (Image: Reuters)

File photo Terminal 3. (Image: Reuters)

Government might restart international flights as early as August with limited capacity and only to countries with bilateral agreement.

Arjit Garg
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DGCA, the nodal agency for Civil Aviation in India recently issued a notification extending the ban on scheduled commercial international flights till July 31. While the ban was earlier supposed to be till July 15 as per the MHA guidelines for Unlock 2.0, it was extended within a few days of the notification.

On the other hand, the Vande Bharat Mission, which is the largest of its kind repatriation mission undertaken by any country, is in its fourth stage now and will end on July 31 as well. This indicates there are two possibilities that can take a shape in August - either the VBM will be extended for the fifth phase or government will open the skies for schedule international flights, but with capacity constraint, following the domestic flights model.

Back on May 25, when government restarted the scheduled domestic flights, they reduced the flight capacity to one-third of the original schedule of air carriers. The same model can be applied in the international flights too. Not only this, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had on June 20 said the government will start thinking on the resumption of scheduled international passenger flights in mid-July when it expects the domestic air traffic to reach 50-55 per cent of the levels before the coronavirus.

While mid-July is out of equation, a recent order issued by the ministry stated that, "One Third (1/3) capacity may be read as 45 per cent capacity." This means domestic flights are already using 45 percent of their capacity and leading experts and airline management is assuming that by July end, the capacity can be increased to 60 percent.

This has reignited the theory that DGCA and MoCA might announce commencement of scheduled international flights as early as August first week. Currently the international flights are banned from operating in India as government announced lockdown starting March 23, 2020.

Also, India is in talks with the US and Canada and the countries in European and Gulf regions on establishing individual bilateral bubbles which will allow airlines of each country in the pact to operate international flights, said Arvind Singh, Chairman, Airports Authority of India (AAI).

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) had on June 23 said India is considering establishing "individual bilateral bubbles" with the US, the UK, Germany and France. Singh said, "This morning, I took a brief from the key point person (from the MOCA) who is negotiating with the countries, and he said that we are in constant touch. We are working on a consensus to restart the international flights. This is going to be through air bubbles."

"Talks are mainly going on between India and the US, India and Canada, India and Europe and India and the Gulf countries to start flights in these bubbles," he said at a webinar called "Reposing the faith in flying" organised by the GMR group.

This also means that rather than opening the air services to all countries, government will start the international flights in a calibrated manner and only with countries they have bilateral agreement. Govt might infact carry on the Vande Bharat Mission with non-partner countries to repatriate international passengers.

With Inputs fro PTI

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