International flights between India and the US will start from today, after nearly a four-month hiatus, putting an end to the long wait for international flyers. This comes after both countries signed an international arrangement with each other called an 'air bubble'. India has inked similar agreements with France and Germany.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced on Thursday that India has established individual bilateral bubbles with the said countries granting permission to airlines of each country (in the pact) to operate international flights.
Puri also said that a similar agreement will soon be reached with the UK.
In an initiative to further expand our international civil aviation operations, air bubble arrangements with US, UAE, France & Germany are being put in place while similar arrangements are also being worked out with several other countries.— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) July 16, 2020
What is an air bubble?
An air bubble is a bilateral agreement comprising a set of regulations and restrictions the airlines of the two countries have to abide by to operate international flights.
"Under this arrangement airlines from the concerned countries will be able to operate flights from and to India along with Indian carriers. I have no doubt these will be beneficial for our citizens who are stressed and distressed abroad or those who want to fly out," Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in a tweet.
Under this arrangement airlines from the concerned countries will be able to operate flights from & to India along with Indian carriers. I have no doubt these will be beneficial for our citizens who are stressed & distressed abroad or those who want to fly out.- Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) July 16, 2020
India had announced an air bubble with the UAE on July 9 which would be in place from July 12 to 26.
Air bubbles with France, US, Germany
Air France will operate 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Paris from July 18 to August 1, Puri stated 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 also got a request from the Germans. I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost done...We are processing that request," Puri articulated.
However, later during the day, the Civil Aviation Ministry issued a statement that said, "Air bubbles established with the 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.
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 a maximum of 33 per cent of their pre-COVID domestic flights.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) increased the limit on June 26 from 33 per cent to 45 per cent.
"We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we will have of 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 their airports can handle per day, he said, adding that he expects this would change in the coming 2-3 weeks.
He said once domestic capacity reaches 50-55 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity, the government will get the confidence about opening up 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 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 it will be a constraint as the airport handles only 50 flights per day.