India and Germany, which recently had a fallout over international flight operations leading to suspension of the air bubble arrangement between the two countries, are expected to hold discussions this week in an effort iron out their differences, The Indian Express has learnt.
On October 2, Air India announced cancellation of its flights to Frankfurt till October 14 after Germany withdrew its approval granted to the airline to operate under the air bubble arrangement. This was preceded by the Indian side asking Lufthansa to curtail its schedule, which led to the German airline cancelling its flights to India till October 20.
In response to an e-mail query sent by this newspaper, the German transport ministry said, “The German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation confirmed to hold bilateral talks on 6 October. These will be held as a video conference. The aim is to find a solution on how to restore civil air transport between Germany and India in the spirit of the existing air transport agreement between our two countries”.
International passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus lockdown. However, special flights have been permitted under air-bubble arrangements, which India entered into with 16 countries, including Germany.
A senior Indian government official said one of the main reasons for the action was European carriers operating sixth-freedom flights by carrying passengers from India to North American destinations and not allowing Air India to do the same. The sixth freedom of flying — which lets an airline to fly passengers from one country to a hub in its home country and from there to a third country — is not allowed under air bubble arrangements. Earlier this month, the Centre had formally asked European airlines to stop their sixth-freedom flights.
When Lufthansa announced cancellation of its flights and said it was on account of an “unexpected rejection” of its flight schedule by Indian authorities, India’s aviation watchdog Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said there were restrictions in place for Indian nationals desiring to travel to Germany, which was putting Indian carriers at a significant disadvantage resulting in inequitable distribution of traffic in favour of Lufthansa. “As against Indian carriers operating 3-4 flights a week, Lufthansa operated 20 flights a week. In spite of this disparity we offered to clear 7 flights a week for Lufthansa which was not accepted by them. Negotiations continue,” the DGCA had said in a statement.
The BMVI said that the German authorities, like the Indian authorities have adopted special entry requirements due to the Covid19 pandemic. “These entry regulations apply regardless of which airline carries passengers entering Germany. German airlines and their passengers must also comply with the regulations. Even in the crisis situation, the German authorities have in principle not restricted the frequencies approved for the 2020 summer flight schedule,” it noted.
However, the German government was non-committal on whether the talks with India’s civil aviation ministry are expected to be held this week could lead to resumption of the flights. “The BMVI does not want to anticipate the bilateral talks. In the light of our long history of good aviation relations we are convinced that we can reach a mutually beneficial solution. We have received signals that India is also interested in a quick and satisfactory solution for both sides,” it said in its e-mail response.
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