India Considers Flight Requests From Foreign Airlines

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India is considering requests from a number of foreign airlines to operate repatriation flights, following the US’ complaint. If allowed, foreign carriers could fly out of India with eligible passengers, after a months-long travel ban. Currently, only Air India is operating repatriation services in and out of India. Let’s find out more.

Air India 787
Air India has had a monopoly over international flights since March. Photo: Boeing

The situation

The latest news comes after the US publicly announced its disapproval of Air India’s repatriation services. According to the Department of Transportation (DoT), Air India has been able to restore 53% of its commercial service to the US, while US carriers are still unable to fly. This has led to the US saying that Air India will require DoT permission before operating any more charter flights into the US, with effect from July.

Air India
Air India has restored half of its commercial US capacity with repatriation. Photo: Tom Boon/Simple Flying

The government’s decision to allow passengers to book the outbound leg of repatriation flights has drawn the ire of many foreign airlines. This effectively means that anyone eligible to travel can book a flight with Air India to any of its repatriation destinations. Many foreign nationals and residents have used this option to return to their home countries.

However, all foreign airlines are currently banned from flying into India, giving Air India a monopoly over the market. The government has also not allowed carriers such as Lufthansa permission to operate empty to India and carry passengers outbound. However, this might change soon.

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India’s response

Seeing the importance of the Vande Bharat mission, India has responded rapidly to the complaints of the US and others. In a tweet from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the government has said it is directly negotiating with a number of countries to establish bilateral travel bubbles, since demand remains high.

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The possible countries whose airlines could operate include the US, Germany, France, and the UK. These are all countries where Air India is, or has, operated multiple repatriation flights, explaining why they are a top priority. However, the timeline for this decision still remains uncertain and could extend into July.

India has seen massive demand for its repatriation services, with hundreds of thousands still waiting to get a flight. The government has been hesitant to bring in other airlines on the repatriation mission; even private Indian carriers have only been allowed a handful of flights.

However, balancing the number of inbound passengers with healthcare facilities in India has been a delicate task. On the other hand, the demand for outbound flights has increased drastically, as countries around the world begin to ease restrictions.

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Repatriation is a booming business

A number of airlines have shown interest in operating repatriation flights out of India. Lufthansa was the first to offer to fly its planes in empty and only carry passengers leaving the country. Delta filed for similar plans with the Indian government, seeing the strong demand repatriation was getting. Emirates is following a similar procedure on flights out of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, and will likely apply for the same in India.

Delta A350
Both Delta and Lufthansa have applied to fly repatriation flights out of India. Photo: Airbus

Repatriation can be a very profitable business, with some airlines pricing the tickets at outrageously high prices for long flights. Compared to other special flights, Air India’s ticket prices are relatively low, charging about $1,320 (Rs. 100,000) for a flight from the US to India. However, airlines are banking on pent-up demand to find success with these repatriation flights. This could become a reality with India’s daily cases surging and more foreign residents looking to return to their home nations.

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