International flights halted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and operational only to a few destinations may soon get a boost with the Centre proposing air bubbles with at least 18 countries including five neighbouring countries, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Tuesday (August 18).
Under a bilateral air bubble pact, airlines of both the countries involved can operate international flights to each other’s territory under restrictions.
“We continue to further strengthen the reach & scope of VBM (Vande Bharat Mission). Air Travel arrangements are already in place with USA, UK, France, Germany, UAE, Qatar & Maldives. We are now taking these efforts forward & are negotiating with 13 more countries to establish such arrangements,” Puri tweeted.
These countries are Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Bahrain, Israel, Kenya, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. The minister said the ongoing negotiations will benefit stranded Indians and nationals of these countries.
India is also in talks with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan for a similar arrangement. Pakistan and China are not on the list.
“Air bubbles have also been proposed with our neighbours Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal & Bhutan. Going forward, we will consider such arrangements with other countries also. It is always our endeavour to reach out to every stranded citizen. No Indian will be left behind,” Puri tweeted.
Currently, international flight to and from India are operational to evacuate stranded nationals.
India had resumed domestic flights on May 25 after a gap of two months due to the COVID lockdown. The average occupancy rate of these flights has been between 50 to 60 per cent. Currently, airlines are allowed to operate 45 per cent of their domestic flights.