Lufthansa Group, which operates airline brands like Lufthansa and SWISS, has offered to fly empty planes to India and carry passengers only on its outbound flights to destinations in Europe, senior government officials said on Tuesday (June 9).
Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, there is a pent up demand for outbound international travel, especially among non-resident Indians (NRIs) who are in a hurry to go back either for personal or professional reasons.
“A decision is yet to be taken on this matter,” said the senior government official.
The Civil Aviation Ministry started Vande Bharat Mission on May 7 to bring back stranded Indians from abroad on flights operated by Air India group amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Air India has been taking bookings on its outbound flights too, and for some destinations, the demand has been huge.
Since March 23, foreign airlines have operated non-scheduled repatriation flights to take their stranded citizens back home.
Lufthansa did not respond to the request for a statement from PTI.
The offer from the German airlines group, Lufthansa, comes at a time when the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in India, especially in metro cities that have the country’s largest airports like Delhi and Mumbai.
State governments in the past have expressed reluctance to deal with large numbers of incoming flyers as their health infrastructure has been swamped with a huge number of COVID-19 cases.
For example, when scheduled domestic passenger flights started operating on May 25, Mumbai airport was permitted to handle only 50 flights per day as per the request of Maharashtra government.
Similarly, Kolkata airport was permitted to handle just 20 flights per day from May 28 onwards, as per the request of the West Bengal government.
More than 2.46 lakh people have been infected and around 7,400 people have died due to COVID-19 in India till now.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said on June 7 that India will take a decision on resumption of international passenger flights as soon as countries ease restrictions on entry of foreign nationals.
Many major countries like Japan and Singapore have put significant restrictions on entry of foreigners amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On June 1, Puri had said that several factors like the lockdown in metro cities and the ban imposed by various countries on the entry of foreigners need to be addressed before resuming international passenger flights in India.