France and the United States establish “air bubbles” for flights to India

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New Delhi: Air France and United Airlines of the United States will operate a limited number of international flights under so-called “air bubble” agreements with India, and negotiations are under way with Germany and the UK to enter into similar agreements, said Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri said on Thursday. Later, a government statement said that the agreement with Germany had been “established” and that Lufthansa would operate the flights.

A bilateral air bubble refers to a travel corridor between two countries that wish to reopen their borders and re-establish links with each other. International flights to and from India have been suspended since March 23, with the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic spreading worldwide. Since then, limited domestic flights have resumed.

Air France will operate 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from July 18 to August 1; and United Airlines will operate 18 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Newark and San Francisco until July 31.

Puri said India is planning to sign a similar deal with the UK soon, and two flights a day will operate between Delhi and London.

“We also received a request from the Germans. I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost complete. We are processing this request. Lufthansa will also be operational soon, “he said, adding that a similar agreement is also in place with the United Arab Emirates from July 12 until August 26.

“Air bubbles have been established with the United States, France and Germany… Lufthansa will also operate [flights]”A statement from the Ministry of Civil Aviation said later today.

Puri said bilateral air bubbles were the only way to resume international travel during the pandemic.

“Until the international civil aviation can recover its figures of before Covid, I think that the answer will be in bilateral air bubbles, which will transport a certain number of people but under conditions defined because countries , which India still impose entry restrictions on, “said Puri.

“We welcome what the Minister of Aviation is doing to try to bring some normalcy back to international flight operations; however, this will largely depend on the countries that accept Indian passengers. What will happen if someone who lands there is tested positive, they will be fired. Although this is a gradual movement, I do not think vacationers will take flights for tourism given the restrictions on hotels, restaurants, etc.

According to an aviation ministry official, only the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have established a bubble for air travel. Hindustan Times could not independently confirm this.

The Center extended the suspension of international flights until July 31. Domestic flights were able to resume from May 25, two months after a general suspension since the announcement of the first lockout. Only international repatriation flights and cargo flights have been authorized by the government.

As part of the Vande Bharat mission to repatriate stranded Indians abroad, Puri said that at least 680,000 Indians have been evacuated so far.

“A total of 687,467 passengers were evacuated as part of the mission until July 15. Of these, 215,495 were evacuated by the Air India group, 135,000 by private Indian charters, 12,258 by private Indian carriers and 211,361 by foreign charters, “he said.

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