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International flight resumption: International flights on mind, aviation ministry to meet airlines today

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New Delhi: As the UK, the US and Canada start their Covid-19 vaccination programmes, India’s aviation ministry has called a meeting with airlines on Tuesday to discuss resuming international flights.

“The issue of resumption of international flights and expansion of existing air bubble flights will be discussed with all airlines,” said a person aware of the matter who did not want to be identified.

This is the first time that the aviation ministry has started discussions on restarting international flights and it takes place over six months since it allowed domestic flight operations in May.

Regular domestic flight operations restarted in a staggered manner with the government first allowing airlines to operate 33% of their pre-Covid-19 capacity and then increasing it in phases to 80% currently.

However, a similar model won’t be followed for international flights because that would depend on countries allowing flights from India, people familiar with the matter said.

“There are several countries that would like resumption of regular flight connectivity with India and some may not. So, resumption of international flights would depend on that,” one person said.

India banned regular international and domestic flights in March as part of its measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.

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Flight Fares

Limited international flights by Air India were allowed under the Vande Bharat Scheme in early May and they were later expanded to allow flights by foreign carriers under the bubble arrangement.

India has bubble flight agreements with 23 countries including the US and the UK. While the government has set lower and upper limits for fares in the domestic sector, it’s unlikely that it can regulate international flight fares.

Some airlines told ET they are not very hopeful of an early resumption of flights. “It will depend a lot on the agreement from the other government. At this stage there is hope with the vaccine, but no government has started allowing free movement internationally,” said a senior airline executive who did not want to be identified.

Another executive said there are countries that would be interested in allowing flights from India.

“Some countries need passengers from India to run their airlines. Such countries or regions may allow regular international flights from India but not others because cases are rising in our country,” said the other executive on condition of anonymity.

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