India is considering establishing “individual bilateral bubbles” with the US, the UK, Germany and France allowing airlines of each country in the pact to operate international passenger flights, said the Aviation Ministry on Tuesday.
The ministry’s statement has come after the US Department of Transportation announced on Monday that it has barred Air India from operating chartered flights between India and the United States from July 22 without its prior approval, in an apparent retaliation for the Indian government not allowing American carriers to operate between the two countries.
The Aviation Ministry said, “As we contemplate further opening up in response to demands, we are looking at the prospect of establishing individual bilateral bubbles, India-US, India-France, India-Germany, India-UK. These are all destinations where demand for travel has not diminished. Final decisions pursuant to negotiations are expected to be taken soon.”
“We have received requests from authorities in several countries including the US, France, Germany among others requesting that their air carriers be allowed to participate in the transportation of passengers along the line being conducted by Air India under Vande Bharat Mission. These requests are being examined,” it added.
Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Air India started international chartered flights under Vande Bharat Mission from May 6 to help people stranded amid the pandemic reach their destinations.
The US Department of Transport (DOT) said on Monday it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing Government of India-imposed prohibition of all scheduled international services.
“We are taking this action (of allowing only those Air India flights from July 22 that have DOT’s approval) because Government of India has impaired the operating rights of US carriers and has engaged in discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to US carrier services to and from India,” the DOT said.
The Aviation Ministry said on Tuesday that it had one round of negotiations with the representatives of the DOT and US Embassy on June 15 about letting American carriers operate flights.
“They were invited to submit precise proposals in this respect. A communication has now been received on 19 June, 2020 detailing these requests,” the ministry said.
Air India has been operating chartered flights on Indo-US routes since May 18 where tickets on both the legs are sold.
While tickets on the India-US leg are sold through Air India’s website to the public, the seats on the US-India leg have to be purchased after contacting the Indian Embassy in the US.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said on June 20 that the government will start thinking on resumption scheduled international passenger flights in mid-July, when it expects the domestic air traffic to reach 50-55 per cent of the levels before the coronavirus.
After nearly two months of suspension to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights from May 25 but in a curtailed manner and by placing lower and upper limits on airfares depending upon the flight duration.
Moreover, Puri had said on June 20 that during phase 3 and phase 4 of the Vande Bharat mission, private domestic airlines have been approved to operate 750 international flights to repatriate people stranded amid the coronavirus pandemic. Phase 3 of Vande Bharat Mission began on June 10.