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US bans charters, India looks at ‘bilateral bubbles’


NEW DELHI: India is looking at the possibility of establishing ‘bilateral arrangements’ with some nations allowing airlines of each country to operate international passenger flights, said the Civil Aviation Ministry on Tuesday. The statement came after the US Department of Transportation (DoT) announced that it will not allow India’s repatriation flights beyond July 22.

The ministry has received requests from authorities concerned in several countries including the US, France, Germany among others. These countries have requested that their air carriers be allowed to participate in the transportation of passengers along the line being conducted by Air India under Vande Bharat Mission. These requests are being examined, said the ministry.

“As we move from controlled and managed aviation evacuation of our citizens in different parts of the world and foreign nationals from India, we are now looking at the possibility of establishing bilateral arrangements,” it said.

The ministry also said it was looking at the prospect of establishing ‘individual bilateral bubbles’ namely India-US, India-France, India-Germany, India-UK. These are all destinations where demand for travel has not diminished, it said.

The US has accused India of indulging in unfair and discriminatory practices amid the coronavirus pandemic through charter flights. As per the order, Indian airlines will now have to take permission and authorisation from the DoT before flying charter flights to the US. The order seems to be an apparent retaliation for the Indian government not allowing American carriers to operate.

The order said that the move was aimed at creating a level playing field for US airlines in accordance with the US-India Transport Agreement.

India has suspended international passenger flights since March 25 due to Covid-19. Air India started international chartered flights under Vande Bharat Mission from May 6, primarily to help stranded Indians return home. The ministry said these flights are now also flying citizens of other countries to their home.