The Ministry of Civil Aviation on Tuesday said that it was in the process of examining requests by the United States, France, Germany and other countries to allow their air carriers to participate in the transportation of passengers to India under the Indian government’s Vande Bharat Mission, started amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ministry made the disclosure after the United States announced restrictions on Air India’s special repatriation flights alleging “unfair and discriminatory practices”.

On Monday, the United States Transportation Department issued an order that will allow US officials to examine “charter flights by Indian carriers on a case-by-case basis”. The order will be implemented from July 22. The department’s order noted that this was an attempt to restore “a level playing field” for the country’s airlines as per the US-India Air Transport Agreement.

Under the new order, Indian airlines will have to seek permission from the US Department of Transportation for authorisation before flying charter flights. The action taken against India followed restrictions against Chinese airlines after the US agency blamed Beijing for unfairly prohibiting American airlines. On June 15, the US allowed four flights every week from China after the country allowed the same number of US carriers.

On Tuesday, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation said that apart from examining the requests, it has held one round of negotiations on June 15 with representatives of the US Transportation Department and US embassy. The ministry said it has invited these entities to submit their proposals on the matter. It added that it has received a communication on June 19 formally detailing the requests.

The ministry said India is examining the option of signing bilateral agreements for the repatriation flights. “As we contemplate further opening up in response to demands, we are looking at the prospect of establishing individual bilateral bubbles – India-US, India-France, India-Germany, India-UK,” it said. “These are all destinations where demand for travel has not diminished. Final decisions pursuant to negotiations are expected to be taken soon.”

The Vande Bharat Mission was started on May 7 to bring back Indians stranded abroad amidst the Covid-19 global lockdown. Foreign nationals with valid visa could book tickets in outbound flights and Indians stranded abroad could come back on a payment basis.

India had prohibited both domestic and international air travel in March, as it proceeded towards a nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus. While domestic services were partially resumed on May 25, there continues to be a ban on regular international aviation.

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