Air Bubbles: United Airlines will resume flight operation to India today. Under exclusive bilateral air bubbles, India is in the advanced stage of talks with France, Germany and the UK to restart flight operation soon.
International Flights in India: The country is set to resume overseas passenger flights from today, though on limited routes and numbers under the ‘bilateral air bubbles’, even as coronavirus infections crossed the 1-million mark in the country. India has established individual bilateral bubbles with France and the US to resume international passenger flights, according to civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri. He also informed that talks are in final stages for similar arrangements with Germany and the UK.
So what are these ‘air bubbles’ or travel bubbles?
India has suspended international passenger flights since March in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Also, several nations closed their border for foreigners to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic; though some cargo flights and evacuation flights to bring back stranded Indian passengers home under the Vande Bharat Mission were allowed to continue their services.
Many countries in the past few weeks have opened their borders and are allowing foreigners to enter into their countries, though with some restrictions, even as the world is reeling under the coronavirus pandemic.
Early this month, some countries from the European Union (EU) released a “safe list” allowing citizens of from 14 countries to travel between them for non-essential purposes. A few days later, the UK established “travel corridors”, under which it allowed passengers from 59 jurisdictions to enter the country from 10 July onwards. It also exempts them from self-isolation, but with a condition; they must not have a travel history to a country not mentioned in the list the previous 14 days. Though India wasn’t included earlier in the “travel corridors” list, Puri on Thursday said that India is at an advanced stage of talks with the UK to start exclusive air bubble.
An air bubble is a bilateral arrangement between two countries under which airlines from both countries can operate international flights with a set of regulations and restrictions.
Australia and New Zealand, where virus outbreak is under control, could lead the way for such air travel agreements between countries, according to industry experts. Even small nations like Fiji and the Cook Islands, which have controlled the spread of the virus, might join in for such arrangements. Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan can also be added to the list. The Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia also have established bubbles among them allowing travel, but they have restricted outsiders.
United Airlines will be the first foreign airline to resume flight to and from India. The US-headquartered air carrier will operate 18 flights between both the countries from July 17 to July 31; on two routes—a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco, informed Puri.
Under this exclusive air bubbles, Air France will also be operating flight between India and France. From July 18 to August 1, the airline is scheduled to operate 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris.
Puri at a press conference yesterday said Indian air carriers will also be given opportunities to fly abroad, but they need to operate wide-body aircraft for such medium- and long-haul flights in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
Among Indian airlines, currently, only Vistara—a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airline—and Air India have wide-body aircraft.
The restarting international operation mainly depends on the destination country. Setting up air bubbles also requires travel restrictions such as quarantining or testing of passengers to be discarded among the countries in the bubble.
“The whole idea of an air bubble is that you are at a stage short of normal civil aviation activities, said Puri, adding that which depend on several factors like the virus, demand situation and number of flights that are being allowed to operate by major cities.
Regarding airfares, Puri said prices will come down as more and more airlines fly under the air bubble mechanism. He also informed that arrangement with Lufthansa for flights to and from Germany is almost done.
Under the Vande Bharat Mission, as many as 6.87 lakh Indians have returned home as of July 15. Though there was some criticism for high fares, Puri said that Air India, which brought back maximum passenger home, has brought down the international fares and fares will be brought down further. Under Vande Bharat Mission, the price for an air ticket between India and the UAE was Rs 13,000-Rs 15,000, while to the US and Canada was around Rs 1 lakh. Puri informed that prices were brought down by around 25% to Rs 75,000. He said it will be brought bring down further; similarly for tickets to the UK and Europe.