India’s “Air Bubbles” – Towards Normalcy of Air Travel

By Ajay Prakash | July 19, 2020

Last week, India had permitted foreign airlines to participate in operating repatriation flights for Indians stranded abroad.

Many airlines such as United, Air France, Emirates and Lufthansa had shown interest to participate in these special flights. Removing the uncertainty surrounding repatriation flights, the government today defined the concept of ‘air bubbles’, under which these flights will operate.

What are ‘Air Bubbles’ and who can travel?

Air bubbles are travel corridors established between two countries within the prescribed rules and regulations of both sides. India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, explained that air bubbles are “at a stage short of normal civil aviation activities.”

Currently, those such as diplomats, Indian citizens, OCI card holders and persons having permanent residency permits in foreign countries can take these flights. Foreign workers in the field of healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, design and managerial positions are also now permitted to travel subject to specific conditions.

India has still not opened up to foreign tourists.

Travellers arriving in India will be subject to health screening at the airport and then placed into quarantine for a 7 to 14 day period on their own expense.

So, what airlines are participating?

An ‘Air bubble’ agreement has been finalised with the US, France and Germany. Talks with the UK are in the finals stages. United Airlines and the Gulf carriers are already operating flights to and from India.

On the domestic front Air India has been operating such flights for the past two months. Vistara is the only other Indian carrier that has wide-body aircraft and can fly non-stop to the US.  Not to miss the opportunity, Indigo and Spicejet are looking at wet-leasing wide-body aircraft to enable them to participate in the ‘Bubble’ flights. Wet-leased aircraft come with the flight crew, therefore, can be immediately deployed.

Is there a cause for worry?

These flights are being permitted despite the fact the Coronavirus cases have crossed the 1 million mark in India and 3.8 million in the US.

In both countries, the infection rate is yet to flatten out. The passengers will still need to undertake a COVID-19 test and adhere to the quarantine process as mandated by the country with strict enforcement. You may recall, that New Zealand had to suspend their air bubble arrangement with Australia when new cases were detected in the country and attributed to foreign travellers.

Photo Credit: Suh Myoung-geon/Yonhap via AP

India is definitely heading towards restoring the normalcy of international air travel. However, on the pandemic front, they must exercise abundant caution and strict enforcement of quarantine procedures.

Will the ‘Air Bubble’ arrangement succeed? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

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