Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday said that bilateral air bubbles is the only way to resume international air travel. "Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-Covid numbers, I think the answer will lie through bilateral air bubbles which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions including India," Puri said at a press conference.
Puri said that as many people as they can ferry would be ferried through these air bubbles but it would not be free. He said many foreign countries are imposing restrictions and there would be many checks and balances even for people with visas.
The minister said that India is at a very advanced stage of negotiations with at least three countries including France, US and Germany for air bubble. "Air France will be operating 28 flights from Delhi, Mumbai & Bengaluru to Paris between July 18 to August 1. We have an agreement with United Airlines to operate 18 flights between India-US between July 17 and July 31 but this is an interim one. We have a request from Germany also and an agreement with Lufthansa is almost done," he said.
Puri added that domestic flights are operating at 33 per cent capacity. "We have to navigate difficult terrain," he said.
Scheduled international flights have not been operational since March 23 due to coronavirus lockdown.
The minister commended Air India on its efforts to evacuate stranded Indians from several countries. He said that Vande Bharat Mission is currently in the fourth phase. Puri said that 619 flights will bring back more than two lakh Indians. "We are evacuating about 20,000 people every day," he said.
Hardeep Puri said that 687,467 people have been brought back home, out of which Air India ferried 215,495 people, while other private carriers brought back 12,258 Indians.