Indian passengers will have more travel options as the government has decided to open scheduled international passenger flights from December 15 in a graded fashion based on Covid-19 transmission risk.
A decision was announced by the civil aviation ministry on Friday following consultations with the ministries of external affairs and health and home.
The move comes close on the heels of India reopening its borders to foreign tourists from November 15 amid pressure from travel companies, foreign governments, and members of the Indian diaspora.
At present capacity on international routes is between 40-45 per cent of winter 2019 level and the government decision would lead to an increase in flights and help reduce fares. Resumption of normal scheduled flights means an end to an air transport bubbles and thus airlines can sell tickets to all onward connections giving passengers more travel choice.
As per the latest decision, countries have been classified in two categories – not at risk and at risk and total flights to be allowed will depend on that.
For countries that have been identified as “not at risk” full capacity entitlements will be available as per bilateral air service agreements.
In the case of countries that have been identified as “at risk”, and with whom an air transport bubble has been finalised, 75 per cent of pre-Covid operations of Indian or foreign carrier (whichever is higher) will be allowed.
In the case of countries identified “at risk” and with whom air transport bubble has not been finalised, 50 per cent of bilateral seat entitlement or 50 per cent of pre-Covid operations of Indian or foreign carriers whichever is higher would be allowed.
As of November 26, twelve countries/regions have been classified at risk. These include countries in Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong and Israel.
Scheduled international flights were suspended in March 2020 with the announcement of a nationwide lockdown. Initially only repatriation and charter flights were operated. From July 2020 onwards India began signing air transport bubble agreements with countries. At present India has such pacts with 31 countries.
Flights under air transport bubbles are essentially scheduled flights but operate with different conditions. For instance airlines are allowed to sell tickets for only a limited number of onward destinations. In the case of certain countries, bubble agreements allow for only point-to-point traffic.
The growing demand for air travel and capacity constraints thus resulted in spike in fares on overseas routes.
In its order the DGCA said the in case an airline has sold excess seats under air transport bubble flight then these can be utilised only till December 14. Such airlines will restrict their operations to capacity entitlements under bilateral air service agreements/traffic rights available with the airlines, with effect from December 15.