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Overseas flights start December 15 but new Covid fears trigger an ‘at-risk’ list

🔴 While the move could potentially bring down fares on some high-volume flight routes, this comes at a time when international travel faces fresh uncertainty because of the new Covid-19 variant.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: November 27, 2021 10:28:16 am
The government also released a list of ‘at-risk’ countries, and the nature of resumption of international scheduled flights will depend on whether a country is present in this list.

International scheduled commercial flights to and from India will resume December 15 onward after a 21-month ban, an order from the Ministry of Civil Aviation said Friday. While the move could potentially bring down fares on some high-volume flight routes, this comes at a time when international travel faces fresh uncertainty because of the new Covid-19 variant.

The government also released a list of ‘at-risk’ countries, and the nature of resumption of international scheduled flights will depend on whether a country is present in this list. It includes countries in Europe including the UK, and South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong Kong and Israel. Passengers travelling from the countries in this list issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will have to undergo additional measures upon arrival in India, including post-arrival testing.

In its order, the Civil Aviation Ministry noted: “The matter of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India has been examined in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and it has been decided that scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India may be resumed from December 15, 2021”.

For the countries not in this ‘at-risk’ list, airlines will be allowed to mount flights as per full capacity entitlements decided in the bilateral air service agreements between India and the particular country. For countries in this list that have an air bubble arrangement with India — such as the UK and European countries like Germany, the Netherlands, France, etc — airlines have been allowed to mount 75 per cent of pre-Covid capacity, or a minimum of seven frequencies per week. Lastly, for the ‘at-risk’ countries with no air bubble arrangement, 50 per cent of bilateral capacity entitlements have been allowed.

Travellers to countries such as the US, where the bilateral agreement with India states unlimited flight frequencies can be mounted by airlines of both countries, can expect relief on fares for direct India-US flights ahead of the holiday season in December. Similarly, for Canada, airlines of both countries will be able to operate the full-capacity entitlement of 35 flights a week, while for Thailand, which is a top tourist destination, airlines of both countries can mount a maximum capacity of 9,895 seats per week as per the agreement.

For some countries where the seats allocated under the air bubble arrangement was higher than the bilateral entitlements, the Ministry said: “The seats under air bubble arrangement which have already been sold by airlines, which are more than the capacity entitlements under bilateral air service agreements available with the airlines, will be allowed to be operated till December 14, 2021.”

“Such airlines will restrict their operations to capacity entitlements enter bilateral air service agreements available with airlines with effect from December 15, 2021,” it said.

According to airline executives, the number of flights allowed will result in higher capacity allocation to address the demand, but they also said that they will be monitoring the situation in context of the new Covid-19 variant.

“In the UK, they have placed South Africa on the red list, so arrivals will be with total quarantine. Obviously, we will assess our network and frequencies in South Africa as a result of that,” Alex McEwan, Country Manager, South Asia, Virgin Atlantic told The Indian Express.

A senior official of an Indian budget carrier said how much capacity the airlines add will also be a function of what the destination country is allowing. “We will have to sit down with our network planners and decide on the basis of demand and the rules imposed by the other countries to see what flights will be feasible to operate. If, as a result of the travel restrictions in the destination country, there is not enough demand, then flying there does not make business sense. But on a broader scale, there are a number of countries where there is quite some demand from leisure travellers,” the airline official said.

India had resumed granting tourist visas for those flying on chartered flights from October 15 and for other flights from November 15.

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