United Airlines to operate 18 flights between US, India from July 17 to 31.
Indians and Americans stranded in either country due to covid-19 travel bans and lockdowns will now have more choices to return home as India is setting up ‘Air Bubbles’ with the US, France and Germany.
US-based United Airlines has been allowed to operate 18 flights between Delhi, Mumbai and Newark from July 17 to 31 as part of the new arrangements, Indian Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced in New Delhi Thursday.
India has also allowed Air France to operate 28 flights to Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai from July 18 to August 1, while negotiations are on with Germany regarding operations of Lufthansa flights to India.
Bilateral air bubbles with agreed conditions such as high demand, legal entry and exit norms and airlines’ willingness to operate on these sectors, will be the way to resume international travel amid the covid-19 pandemic, Puri told a press conference.
“Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-Covid numbers, I think the answer will lie through bilateral air bubbles,” he said.
These “will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions including India.”
India which suspended scheduled commercial international flight operations from March 23 has since extended the ban till July 31.
Agreement to form an ‘air bubble’ with US comes after it served notice to India to seek prior approval for flights to and from America unless US airlines too got a piece of the action in its massive exercise to bring back stranded Indians from more than 50 countries.
The US order which was set to come into effect on July 22 said that India’s move to ban scheduled flight operations as well as disallow US carriers to operate repatriation charters from India violated the India-US Air Service Agreement of 2005.
Puri also praised Air India for bringing back 215,495 stranded Indians from across the world amid the covid-19 crisis. With private operators joining, a total of 687,467 people have been brought back till July 15.
“The Vande Bharat Mission is currently in the fourth phase. It involves 619 flights which will bring back more than 200,000 Indians. We are evacuating about 20,000 people every day,” he said.
Air India’s chairman and managing director Rajiv Bansal said the airline operated 1,103 flights from 71 cities across 53 countries to evacuate Indians.