India has successfully repatriated over four million people under the Vande Bharat Mission since early May. The mission has already become the largest repatriation in the world, with residents returning on flights and ships. So how long will the mission continue?
Four million and counting
India’s Minister of Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri, announced the four million achievements yesterday on Twitter. India has consistently seen over 6,000 international arrivals daily in the last few months from Vande Bharat flights. The four million figure includes the many repatriated by ship as well, and an exact breakup has not been provided.
Vande Bharat Mission has so far facilitated international travel of more than 40 lakh people & continue to reach out to more around the world despite some turbulence caused by the new strain of Corona Virus in some countries.
We stay committed to help our citizens. pic.twitter.com/8LObuDFvSh
— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) December 22, 2020
The majority of returnees continue to be from Middle East countries, such as the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and more. Air India has also ramped up its schedule from the US and UK, including new routes from both countries. The coming months will see similar flight schedules, with some disruption due to the current UK flight ban.
The Vande Bharat Mission is currently in the eighth phase of repatriation flights, operating flights from 26 countries. Most of the countries on the list are covered by travel bubble agreements, with regular flights operating between them. All international Air India flights, regardless of destination or travel agreements, are also added to the list.
The current phase, which will last until December 31st, includes flights to many East Asian countries including Kuala Lumpur, Phenom Penh, Hong Kong, Yangon, and Manila. Australia will also see flights to Sydney, although those could be disrupted by the outbreak there. All these cities do not have flights to India currently, making repatriation flights essential.
Additionally, Air India has flown three routes to Tel Aviv and Rome this month, slowly resuming some of its old routes. However, India has banned all scheduled flights until 2021, meaning these flights remain “unscheduled.”
UK flight ban hampering operations
India joined the list of countries banning flights from the UK on Monday, canceling flights from 23rd to 31st December. The government did give a 36-hour travel window for travelers to return home for the holidays, a period that saw fares skyrocket. Passengers returning in this time were tested for COVID-19 arrival and asked to self isolate for seven days if negative.
The new strain of COVID-19 in the UK has disrupted flight schedules globally. Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait all closed their borders entirely upon the news of the new strain, canceling hundreds of flights from India. However, some European countries have since reopened their borders with the UK under strict testing and quarantine rules.
While the end of 2020 has proven to be as bumpy as the rest of the year, things are looking up for aviation. The rollout of the vaccine globally could help demand return by the summer and only improve from there. Until demand returns, India will likely continue its ban on scheduled routes and operate repatriation flights.
What are your thoughts about these operations? Let us know what you think in the comment section.