For the first time since March, India is allowing scheduled international flights into the country.
During a press conference on Thursday, Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri confirmed the establishment of “air bubbles” between India and the US, France and Germany.
“Until international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-Covid situation in terms of numbers, the answer lies through these bilateral air bubbles, which will carry as many people as possible but under defined conditions,” said Puri.
“Because many countries are still imposing entry restrictions, as are we, it’s not that anyone can travel from anywhere to anywhere. You need permission.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23, with the exception of repatriation flights.
As of July 15, nearly 690,000 Indian nationals have been flown home on these flights, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Puri told media the ministry has already signed an agreement with France. Air France will operate 28 flights on the Delhi-Mumbai-Bangalore sector to Paris between July 18 and August 1.
The minister indicated that Air India will also be operating daily flights between India and France for the rest of the month but added that these plans are subject to change as details are finalized.
As for the United States, he said they’ve agreed to allow United Airlines to operate 18 flights between India and the US from July 17 to 31. These will include daily flights between Delhi and Newark and thrice-weekly services between Delhi and San Francisco.
Though not yet officially confirmed, Delta is also expected to fly 18 flights from Friday till the end of the month between India and the US, said Puri.
“All these tickets are being sold on a one-way basis,” he said. “So, it is not normal commercial operations.”
Talks with Lufthansa are almost done, he added, noting they are still working out agreements for flights to and from Germany.
Puri acknowledged there’s a huge demand for bilateral air bubbles at the moment, but added that they need to proceed with caution.
“We should do only as much as what our capacity is,” he said. “Our health infrastructure, for instance, the number of quarantine facilities — all states have a mandatory one-week quarantine. So, we must have facilities for that.”
Though regulations vary according to the state, those returning to India must observe a mandatory quarantine for a minimum seven days upon returning to the country. (In some states, they allow people to observe home quarantines and in others it varies depending on whether the traveler is symptomatic.)
At the moment, entrance is restricted to Indian nationals or those with Overseas Citizenship of India status, said an official during the press conference. Some foreigners will also be allowed, he added, but that will be subject to restrictions, which he did not elaborate on.