Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday said India will use bilateral “air bubbles” for international travel amid restrictions on the entry of people in different countries to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The minister said that India has signed bilateral agreements with France and the United States for an “air bubble” to operate flights from Friday. India is in advanced talks with Germany and the United Kingdom.
The Indian government had banned all flights – domestic and international – in March when a countrywide lockdown to fight Covid-19 was imposed. Only some domestic flights were restarted on May 25.
A travel bubble or a bilateral air bubble is a travel corridor between two countries that wish to reopen their borders and re-establish connections, according to The Indian Express. This is an exclusive partnership considered between countries that have either largely eliminated the virus, or trust each other’s testing rates. The concept of a travel bubble requires both sides – the departure point and the arrival point – to be on board. It also means that travel restrictions such as quarantining or testing of passengers have to be discarded among the countries in the bubble.
The civil aviation minister said that Air France would operate 28 flights from Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru to Paris between July 18 and August 1. “Eighteen flights will also operate between India and the United States from July 17 to July 31,” he added. “India is also in talks with Germany’s Lufthansa Airlines to start flights.”
“Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-Covid numbers, I think [the] answer will lie through bilateral ‘air bubbles’, which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions, including India,” Puri said at a press briefing. “We are at a very advanced stage with three countries and it is a work-in-progress.”
Puri added that it is likely that India would be back to operating 55% to 60% of its pre-coronavirus capacity of domestic flights by Diwali in November.
Meanwhile, Air India Chairperson and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal said Air India and Air India Express operated 1,103 flights, bringing back 2,08,000 Indians under the Vande Bharat Mission over the last four months. He added that 85,289 foreigners were ferried to different countries.
“By the sheer number of passengers and also by the number of countries covered, the Vande Bharat Mission was the biggest evacuation exercise by any civil airline in the world,” Ministry of Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said.