Several airlines, embassies ask for it as ‘air bubbles’ have led to fares soaring

Normalisation of international flights is likely before the end of the year, according to a senior official.

India banned scheduled international flights on March 22, 2020. Over the past 18 months, however, it has entered into “air bubble” arrangements with 31 countries under which a limited number of flights are permitted with several restrictions.

Scheduled international flights are likely to resume “very soon” and “by the end of this year”, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Rajiv Bansal told reporters.

Several airlines, embassies, tour operators and travel agents have appealed to the Government to allow pre-COVID capacity as restrictions on the number of flights under “air bubbles” have led to fares soaring. For example, as per the agreement with Dubai, its airlines Emirates and flydubai are allowed only 4,800 seats per day, or 33,600 seats per week, whereas they were allowed 65,200 flights per week pre-COVID under the bilateral air service agreement.

As a result, airlines say, the capacity has come down to half on India-Dubai route leading to doubling of fares to ₹40,000 to ₹45,000.

As different Ministries sit down to chalk out a strategy to reopen flights, the key focus will be on ensuring safety of health.

“I am all for regaining our space in the civil aviation arena in the world and making a hub in India and for more wide body aircraft. We will get there but bear with me and trust me, I am on your side. We will work together but in a safe environment,” Mr. Bansal said.

Last week, Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia said the Government was “evaluating” the process of restarting international flights, while emphasising on the need to be careful in the context of the pandemic.

(with inputs from PTI)