Despite the indications from the government pertaining to a potential resumption of commercial International passenger flights next month, the fact remains that a number of obstacles need to be overcome before the operations can actually be resumed. On Friday, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), while extending the suspension on international flights till July 15, also noted that international scheduled flights may be allowed on selected routes on a case-to-case basis. The regulator had already been allowing special flights meant for repatriation or those with permission from the Ministry of External Affairs, but has not allowed “scheduled passenger flights” on international routes so far.
What does the DGCA’s directive mean?
DGCA’s order could pave the way for the travel bubbles or air-bridges that the government had proposed with various countries such as the US, the UK, France, Germany, etc. This had come after various countries pulled up the Indian government for allowing Air India to carry outbound passengers from India on its flights meant to repatriate Indian citizens from those countries. With several countries partially relaxing their border restrictions, allowing foreign nationals with work permits and even tourists to come in, various governments have sprung into action to work towards resuming international flight operations. Furthermore, the Ministry of Civil Aviation Friday allowed airlines to fly up to 45 per cent of the pre-Covid capacity on domestic routes, which is also seen as a step towards resumption of international operations given that the Centre has said earlier that work will begin on restarting of international flights once domestic capacity reaches 50-55 per cent.
What are the main obstacles for resuming international flights?
The biggest impediment that lies in the way of resumption of international flights from India is the country’s threat perception in terms of the caseload and how it has been able to manage the Covid-19 outbreak. Internationally, various jurisdictions are now looking at a filtered border approach with targeted exclusion of countries where the governments have not been able to effectively contain the spread of coronavirus. This is mainly due to the fear among those countries, which have managed the outbreak, that fully relaxing the border restrictions might lead to a relapse in the pandemic situation within their borders. For example, several European Union countries that wanted to reopen travel to revive their economies are considering blocking American citizens from entering their borders because they deem the US to be risky.
Is there enough demand for international flights?
While under the Vande Bharat repatriation mission, Air India has managed to fly more than 52,000 outbound passengers from India to various countries, this has now been blockaded by several jurisdictions such as the US, France, the UAE, etc. This was on account that the repatriation flights were not meant to fly commercial passengers into the borders of those countries, especially without providing reciprocal benefits to the countries, which sought such benefits. As soon as the Dubai administration announced permission to resident visa holders and tourists to arrive into the emirate through its airports, state-owned budget carrier Air India Express approached the authorities there to let it fly passengers on its Vande Bharat flights, given that they were flying empty one-way. For several other countries, too, thousands of Indian citizens with work permits for those countries, had arrived prior to the lockdown three months ago and have since been stranded here with no option to fly back. This has created a pent-up demand and the people approaching the government to resume flights.
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