NEW DELHI: The Indian government is in talks with at least three countries including the US, France and Germany to resume international flights under ‘bilateral air bubbles’, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said at a press conference on Thursday.
While India and France have already agreed to regulations for carrying out international flights, India is in an advanced stage of negotiations with Germany for international flight operations between the two nations, Puri said, adding Indian private carriers will also be given an opportunity to fly on such long-haul routes provided they operate wide body aircraft for such flights.
At present, only Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, and state-owned Air India have wide body planes in their fleet.
Bilateral air bubbles is a mechanism to resume international flights between India and other countries with certain pre-conditions, which regulates movement in view of the current covid-19 pandemic, civil aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola, present at the same press meet, said.
International flights to and from India have been in suspension since March as various countries went into lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, although the government-owned Air India has carried out repatriation flights to bring stranded Indians home.
As per the agreement with France, Air France will operate 28 flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore from Paris during 18 July-1 August, while Air India will operate 13-14 flights to Paris during the same period, Puri said, adding that following the conclusion of such an agreement with Germany, Lufthansa will also operate flights between the two nations.
“The whole idea of an air bubble is that you are at a stage short of normal civil aviation activities which depend on several factors like the virus (outspread of covid-19), demand situation and the number of flights that are being allowed to operate by major cities,” Puri said.
In the interim, India has also agreed to allow flights between the US and India with United Airlines operating 18 flights between 17 July and 31 July, Puri said.
“We are planning two flights a day between Delhi and London. I have had discussions with my counterpart in the British government,” he added.
He said that with increased participation of airlines, including foreign carriers, on international operations from India, air fares on international routes are expected to come down as compared to fares charged for repatriation flights.
Puri added that the cap on domestic airfares fares put in place by the government since resumption of flight operations in May could be extended beyond 25 August.
“We may need a short extension of the price band (cap on domestic fares) as the capacity (operated by airlines) is still below 33%,” Puri said adding that he expects domestic airline capacity to increase to about 55%-60% by Diwali (November).