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India in Talks With 13 Nations to Establish Bilateral Air Bubble Arrangements, Says Aviation Minister

Image for representation. (Image Source: Reuters)

Image for representation. (Image Source: Reuters)

With the aim to restore commercial passenger services to pre-coronavirus levels, a bilateral air bubble pact will allow airlines of both countries to operate international flights with certain restrictions.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday said India is negotiating with 13 countries to establish separate bilateral air bubble arrangements for international flight operations.

Scheduled international passenger flights continue to remain suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With an aim to restore commercial passenger services to pre-COVID levels, a bilateral air bubble pact will allow airlines of both the countries to operate international flights with certain restrictions. Air bubbles have also been proposed with our neighbours Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan, Puri said on Twitter.

Since July, India has established such bubbles with the following countries – the US, the UK, France, Germany, the UAE, Qatar and the Maldives. Puri said, "We are now taking these efforts forward & are negotiating with 13 more countries to establish such arrangements."

"These countries include Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Bahrain, Israel, Kenya, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand," he added.

Going forward, Puri said India will consider such bilateral arrangements with countries other than the ones mentioned above. "It is always our endeavour to reach out to every stranded citizen. No Indian will be left behind," he said.

Vistara on Tuesday announced it would operate special, non-stop flights between Delhi and London Heathrow from August 28 to September 30 as part of the bilateral "transport bubble" between India and the UK. During the period, Vistara will fly thrice a week between the two cities - on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

After a gap of two months due to the lockdown, India resumed domestic passenger flights on May 25. However, average occupancy rate in Indian domestic flights has been around 50%-60% since May 25.

Airlines in India are currently permitted to operate 45% of their pre-COVID domestic flights. The aviation sector has been significantly impacted due to the travel restrictions imposed in India and other countries. All airlines in India have taken cost-cutting measures such as pay cuts, leave-without-pay and firings of employees in order to conserve cash.

With PTI inputs