India establishes bilateral 'air bubbles' with France, US: Details here
India on Thursday announced it has set up bilateral "air bubbles" with France and the US to resume international commercial flights from Friday. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the Center inked individual bilateral agreements to allow airlines from these two countries to operate international flights. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, air bubbles are the only way for resuming international air travel, he added.
The answer lies in bilateral air bubbles: Aviation Minister
"Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-COVID numbers, I think the answer lies in bilateral air bubbles which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions including India," said Puri, addressing a press conference. From India, state-owned Air India will operate international flights to the US and France under the bilateral air bubbles.
What exactly is an air bubble?
Simply put, air bubbles—also called travel bubbles, bilateral air bridges, or air corridors—are exclusive travel corridors established between two countries wishing to reopen their borders to each other. It's a reciprocal concept; so, both sides (departure/arrival points) must be on board. It primarily depends on the status of COVID-19 control in both countries. Relaxations on travel restrictions (testing/quarantining) may also be available for travelers.
Details about flights operated under the air bubbles
As per the agreements, Air France will reportedly operate 28 flights from July 18-August 1 between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Paris, while American carrier United Airlines is set to operate 18 flights between India and the US from July 17-31. "They (United Airlines) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco," said Puri.
Similar agreements with UK, Germany likely to be inked soon
Meanwhile, India is in talks to set up similar arrangements with the United Kingdom to operate two flights a day between Delhi and London. Puri said India also received a request from Germany. "I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost done... We have many demands, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle," he added.
Scheduled international passenger flights suspended by India in March
To recall, India had suspended scheduled international passenger flights on March 23, and scheduled domestic passenger flights from March 25, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, two months later, the government resumed the domestic commercial flights from May 25. At the time, the Center had allowed airlines to operate only at a maximum of 33% of their pre-COVID-19 flights.
Domestic flight capacity to be increased to 55-60% by Diwali
On June 26, the Civil Aviation Ministry increased the capacity of domestic passenger flight operations to 45% from 33%. On Thursday, Puri said, "We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we would have 55-60% of pre-COVID domestic flights operating in India."