New Delhi: India on Friday decided to allow scheduled commercial international flights from December 15, after almost 20 months of suspension in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
Countries have been divided into three categories with separate capacity restrictions for the resumption of flights.
Full capacity would be allowed with countries classified as “not at risk” by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW).
Regular flights would not be allowed to be operated with countries in the “at risk” category. Countries in Europe including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel figure in the “at risk” group as per MoHFW.
“The matter of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to/from India has been examined in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and it has been decided that scheduled commercial international passenger services to/from India may be resumed from 15.12.2021,” Ministry of Civil Aviation said in a communication to aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on November 26.
The Ministry said that resumption of international flights would imply reversion to bilaterally agreed capacity entitlements and termination of air bubble arrangements.
Air bubble is temporary arrangement between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended.
“The seats under air bubble arrangement which have already been sold by airlines, which are in excess of capacity entitlements under bilateral ASAs (air service agreements)/traffic rights available with the airlines, will be allowed to be operated till 14.12.2021,” the Aviation Ministry said.
The decision to allow regular commercial international flights is set to bring huge relief for flyers as they would now have more options to fly and additional capacity would bring fare levels down across the global network.
Rajiv Mehra, President of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) welcomed the government move to open the international skies but said that regular flights should be started with countries such as UK, Netherlands and France among others.
He expects the fare level to substantially come down compared to prevailing ticket prices in Vande Bharat flights.
“The present ticket prices (in Vande Bharat flights) is 2-3 times higher than pre-Covid level. The tickets which cost Rs 60,000 are currently priced at Rs 1,80,000 or even more. With the start of regular flights they should come down. They should be available at 15-20% higher rates compared to pre-Covid prices. But that would happen in January-February and not immediately,” Mehra said.
As Covid pandemic started spreading to the world, India suspended international flights with effect from March 23, 2020. But with lakhs of Indians stranded in various countries, the government allowed special flights in May last year to evacuate them and the operations was named Vande Bharat Mission.
International passenger flights are currently being operated under air bubble arrangements with various countries and are approved by the aviation regulator.