India has established individual bilateral bubbles with France and the US that will allow airlines of each country in the pact to operate international flights, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday said, adding that similar arrangement with Germany and the UK will soon be permitted.
Air France will be operating 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from July 18 to August 1, the minister said at a press conference.
American carrier United Airlines will be flying 18 flights between India and the US from July 17 to July 31, he added.
"They (United) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco," Puri noted.
The minister said India is planning to establish a bubble with the UK soon under which there would be two flights per day between Delhi and London.
"We have got a request from Germans also. I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost done...We are processing that request," Puri said.
"Now we have many demands for air bubbles, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle," the minister noted.
From India, Air India will be operating flights to France and the US under these bubbles.
An air bubble is a bilateral arrangement with a set of regulations and restrictions in which the carriers of the two countries can operate international flights.
Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After nearly two months of suspension to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights on May 25.
However, it had then allowed the airlines to operate maximum 33 percent of their pre-COVID domestic flights. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) increased the limits on June 26 from 33 percent to 45 percent.
"We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we would have 55-60 percent of pre-COVID domestic flights operating in India," Puri said at the press conference.
I had imagined we would reach 33 percent of our domestic capacity by July 15 but we have not, the minister said.
Various states like Maharashtra have put restrictions on the number of flights that their airports can handle per day, he said, adding that he expects this would change in coming 2-3 weeks.
He said once the domestic capacity reaches 50-55 percent of its pre-COVID capacity, the government will get the confidence about opening international air travel further.
The fact of the matter is that international flights will take place between bigger metros in India and outside locations, the minister mentioned.
Giving the example of the Mumbai airport, the minister said if more international flights are allowed to Mumbai, those passengers will need forward flights to go to other places in India but that will be a constraint as the airport handles only 50 flights per day.