The government on Thursday (April 2) said the resumption of international flights will be considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on which countries they are coming from, after April 15 when the 21-day lockdown to fight the coronavirus ends in India.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri also said Indians who are stranded in several foreign countries will have to wait till April 15 to return to India, suggesting that flights taking foreign nationals to their countries from India will not bring back any passengers.
India has allowed countries like the US, UK and Germany to conduct special flights during the lockdown to take their citizens back home.
Air India has also extended its services to countries such as Germany, UK and France to facilitate return of their citizens.
Air India chief Rajiv Bansal said on Thursday that the airline has entered into a contract with France, Ireland, Germany and Canada to repatriate their citizens.
“Embassies of these countries that are situated in Delhi had asked for assistance to repatriate their citizens from India. They wanted to charter some flights,” Bansal told reporters at a press conference.
“A total of 18 charter flights will be provided to these four countries only on commercial terms. On one way, they will be carrying their nationals, and on return these flights will come back without any passengers or cargo,” the Air India Chairman and Managing Director added.
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India has suspended domestic and international commercial passenger flight operations from midnight on March 24 for 21 days in sync with the nation-wide lockdown.
However, cargo flights, medical evacuation flights, offshore helicopter operations and flights specially permitted by the aviation regulator DGCA can operate during this time period.
At the same press conference on Thursday afternoon, Puri told reporters: “Any incoming flights to bring Indians back home will have to await the lifting of the lockdown.”
“The lockdown is till April 15. And, we can start considering the resumption of flights on a case-by-case basis depending on where they are coming from after that,” Puri said.
During the last few weeks, Air India has conducted multiple flights to virus-infected cities such as Wuhan in China and Rome and Italy to bring back stranded Indian citizens.
Moreover, the national carrier has been conducting flights to countries such as Germany, UK and Israel to repatriate their citizens from India.
Till now, more than 1,900 people have been infected and 50 people have died due to the novel coronavirus in India, according to the Union Health ministry.
Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola also added that airlines are free to take ticket bookings from passengers for any date after April 14, suggesting that those bookings may have to be cancelled in case the 21-day lockdown is extended.
(With inputs from agencies.)