India To Examine Resuming International Flights As Countries Ease Restrictions

As some countries begin lifting border restrictions, India is considering resuming international flights. With few exceptions, the country has banned incoming international flights since March. But on the weekend, India’s Civil Aviation Minister signaled this could soon change.

India’s Civil Aviation Minister has signaled his willingness to get international flying up and running again. Photo: Getty Images

India’s Civil Aviation Minister takes to Twitter

Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Civil Aviation Minister, published a series of tweets on Sunday. He said that, despite demand, he couldn’t re-open India’s airports to international flights until other countries re-opened their borders.

India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has a ban on international flights that runs through until June 30.

The Minister says increasing demand for international flights is driving his view. However, while some countries are allowing carefully managed transit traffic through their airports, few countries are allowing non-essential non-citizens to enter.

It is a common stance that shows no signs of easing up. The Minister notes that most countries are running international services at less than 10% of normal capacity. Of those flights that are operating, many are repatriation flights and essential air links.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

India comes out of lockdown – travel resumes

Until recently, all commercial aviation activity in India was in hiatus. But domestic flights resumed in late May. There is a push to get domestic flying up to 50 – 60% of normal capacity as quickly as possible.

But this resumption of domestic flying could prove an issue. As other countries get on top of COVID-19 infection rates, they are continuing to rise in India. The high rate of domestic travel, which re-opening domestic flights help facilitate, is widely seen as a contributing factor to the spread of COVID-19.

Tata Sons Vistara retrojet getty
There are worries the high level of domestic travel in India is helping spread COVID-19. Photo: Getty Images

That could make other countries wary of accepting inbound passengers from India. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) currently classifies all airports in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh as having a high risk of COVID-19 transmissions.

Owing to their population densities and high levels of domestic travel, countries like India and China are in the spotlight when it comes to COVID-19 risk analysis and air travel. There are fears that, as India comes out of lockdown, the rate of infection there will increase rather than decrease.

Some handy business for Air India

While there isn’t much chance of Hardeep Singh Puri’s wish coming true anytime soon, the national carrier, Air India will operate a lot of international flights between now and July. The Indian Government has a substantial repatriation program underway called Vande Bharat Mission.

To date, over 107,000 Indian citizens have been brought home. Between now and July, another 38,000 citizens will be flown back to India under stage 3 of the program. That’s proving a bonus for Air India, who are laying on over 300 repatriation flights over the next few weeks.

Air India Narrowbody
Stage 3 of Vande Bharat Mission offers Air India a handy piece of business. Photo: Getty Images

Demand for the flights is such that Air India’s website crashed on the weekend when bookings opened. Flights are going to Europe, Australia, Canada, the USA, the UK, and Africa between June 10 and July 1.

Air India is reportedly adding extra flights. While this is a handy piece of business for the continually cash-strapped airline, it probably also represents the vast bulk of international flying that India will see for the immediate future.

Until other countries are confident India has infection rates under control, their borders are unlikely to be open to flights from India, rendering Hardeep Singh Puri’s tweets wishful thinking rather than any sort of clear indicator.