India plans bilateral 'air bubbles' with 5 neighboring countries
India has proposed to establish bilateral air bubble arrangements with five of its neighbors, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Tuesday. Notably, Pakistan is not among the list of neighbors. Under this arrangement, airlines of two countries can operate international flights with certain restrictions. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23.
Air bubbles proposed with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan
Puri said India has proposed bilateral air bubbles with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bhutan. Such bubbles have already been established with the US, the UK, France, Germany, the UAE, and the Maldives. Puri said India is also negotiating air travel arrangements with 13 countries: Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Bahrain, Israel, Kenya, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand.
'Negotiations will benefit stranded Indians, nationals of these countries'
Puri said, "The ongoing negotiations will benefit stranded Indians and nationals of these countries." He added, "Going forward, we will consider such arrangements with other countries also. It is always our endeavor to reach out to every stranded citizen. No Indian will be left behind."
Currently, international travel mostly limited to repatriation flights
Currently, India's international flight operations have been mostly limited to special flights to repatriate citizens as part of the government's Vande Bharat mission (VBM). The latest air bubble that India had operationalized was with Canada on August 15. To recall, air travel between Pakistan and India has been strained since the February 2019 Pulwama terror attacks, which were followed by the Balakot airstrikes.
Air travel suspended since March
In India, air travel has been suspended since late March, when the nationwide lockdown was announced to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Limited domestic air travel operations were resumed in late May after a two-month shutdown. At the moment, airlines in India are permitted to operate 45% of the number of domestic flights in the pre-lockdown period.