Explained: What India’s decision to resume regular international flights means


The government has announced the resumption of international scheduled commercial flights from March 27 after a two-year-long suspension that was put in place following the first Covid-19 wave. However, the question does pop up: Weren’t international flights already operating? We take a look at what changes from March 27 and its impact on the aviation industry.

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Weren’t international flights already operating from India?

Yes. Four months after the Indian government banned all international flights in March 2020, it announced resumption of some under the air bubble arrangements, as opposed to the usual bilateral air-service agreements. These air bubbles were specially negotiated arrangements with countries to allow plying of flights between two points after considering aspects such as health requirements, reciprocity of travel permissions, etc. Over time, India entered into air bubble pacts with 37 countries.

So, what changes from March 27?

Since announcing the original ban that was valid for a month, the government continued to extend the suspension on international scheduled commercial flights every month with the last such order being in effect till March 31. However, it has cut short the ban till March 26, and from March 27 airlines — both Indian and international — will be free to fly as per the original bilateral air-service agreements. This means that the airlines will not face the restrictions on number of flights put in place on account of air bubbles. For example, India’s bilateral air-service agreement with the US allows airlines of both countries to fly unlimited number of flights between the two countries.

What impact does this move have?

The ability to add more flights on international routes could potentially bring some relief to airfares on some of these routes that had shot up as only a limited number were being allowed to operate. In the recent weeks, rising oil prices and airspace restrictions, caused as a result of the Ukraine crisis, have also resulted in an increase in airfares. Airlines operated 4,700 international flights every week from India prior to the Covid-19 suspension.

The process to normalise operations

Now, with the decks being cleared for resumption of scheduled international commercial operations, stakeholders, including airlines, airport operators, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, will start the process of preparing the Summer Schedule 2022 for international flights. This summer schedule will be in place from March 27 till the last week of October. In a statement, IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta said: “This step will provide impetus to the economic recovery for the sector and the nation, with borders opening for tourists. We look forward to connecting our customers to the people and places they love. We will soon be announcing the schedule for our international destinations, in accordance with these new guidelines.”

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