India on Thursday allowed limited international flights to select countries, nearly four months after shutting down all travel in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions.

While tourists will not be allowed to travel if the destination country bars their entry, private and foreign airlines have been granted permission to operate services between Germany, the US and the UAE.

United Airlines and Delta will operate from the US, Air France will fly from France, and various other airlines will operate from the UAE. No UK-based airline will fly in and Air India will, for now, be the only carrier operating flights to London from India. Germany’s Lufthansa is yet to submit a schedule of flights for approval.

ET was the first to report these details in its July 15 edition.

The flights will operate as part of the ‘air bubble’ policy that allows limited movement between two countries subject to respective regulations.

Under this scheme, flights will not be allowed through hubs. So, a passenger flying to London from India will have to travel directly.

Flights have already begun, with carriers operating from Dubai. Air France is expected to start services soon.

“We have completed agreements with the US, UK, France and the UAE. Negotiations with Germany are in the final stage. Also, there are countries that are interested in restarting flights,” aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said. “The regulations of the respective countries will decide whether a certain category of passengers will be allowed in or not,” said aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola.

This means people with valid tourist visas will not be allowed to enter India, as New Delhi only allows entry to its own nationals, OCI (Overseas Citizens of India) card-holders and a certain category of business and diplomatic visa holders.

Air India chairman Rajiv Bansal said fares for flights to the US, Canada and Europe will be brought down further.

“We were earlier charging about ₹100,000 for flights to the US and Canada, which was brought down by about 25%, and will be reduced further. Similarly, fares to the UK and Europe will also be brought down,” Bansal added.

One of the reasons for the reduction in fares could be competition, thanks to the entry of private airlines.

Puri said these flight services will be reviewed and necessary changes carried out as and when required.

India allowed limited restart of domestic flights in late May. The Vande Bharat scheme, which started in early May by Air India, helped evacuate 170,000 Indians stranded in various parts of the world.

Puri said the government is in the process of privatising Air India, which is the only option left since the Centre can’t continue to fund the national carrier.

Air India chairman Bansal said the carrier was renegotiating employee contracts to bring down costs and reduce dependence on government funds.

News Source: Economic Times


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