India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has published a notice today saying that international flights will remain banned from the country until at least July 15th. The announcement came with a small sliver of hope, however, as it included a clause that may allow ‘competent authorities’ to apply for commercial flight rights on a case by case basis.
No international flights before July 15th
The Indian aviation authority has today announced that international flights will not resume in India in the coming weeks. In a notice published by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the office confirmed that all international flights will continue to be banned through to July 15th, 2020.
— DGCA (@DGCAIndia) June 26, 2020
The notice added that the ban would apply to all commercial passenger services to and from India, but not cargo ops or flights specifically approved by DGCA. This means that the Vande Bharat Mission flights will likely continue to operate.
Interestingly, the notice said that,
“International Scheduled Flights may be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on a case to case basis.”
This suggests that airlines from other nations may be allowed to operate flights on a commercial basis if the DGCA gives permission. There is no indication at this stage which nations might be considered, or what the criteria for obtaining permission may be. However, it could give hope that some airlines will be allowed to fly to India soon.
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Stranded people desperate to get home
Within an hour of the news being shared by DGCA on Twitter, more than 200 comments had been added to the post. This is reflective of the huge numbers of people who want to travel to or from India, having been stranded since mid-March.
Many people were angry that there is still no firm confirmation about when flights will restart. Some said they had been booked on VBM repatriation flights, which had then been canceled with no further booking allowed.
So which are EXACTLY the SCHEDULED international flights? Care to throw some light? We booked a flight on VBM and that got cancelled and was told no further booking allowed.
— Julia Sarungbam (@Jsarungbam) June 26, 2020
Please allow @emirates @flydubai to conduct reverse repatriation as per clause 2 from July 1st. We can’t wait any further. Dubai has opened up fully and our jobs are risked! We are talking about going out of India, shouldn’t be any prob to India #indiatouae
— Pavani (@Pavani52884253) June 26, 2020
And again there is no guarantee that after 15th July international flights would be allowed. What if you keep extended the ban like the govt kept extending lockdown. We are in need for some concrete solutions & actions from centre #VandeBharatMission #cryforhelp
— Anurag Pakhidde (@PakhiddeAnurag) June 26, 2020
Millions of Indians are stranded abroad and have been for months. With businesses closed down and workers furloughed, many of these people have been surviving on nothing since the government banned flights in March.
An assessment by the Hindustan Times in April showed that 70% of stranded Indians were in the Middle East. The most significant number, 3.4 million, were usually resident in the UAE. 2.6 million were in Saudi Arabia, while a further 2.9 million were in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain.
As well as Indian’s stranded overseas, there are thousands of people trapped in India who just want to go back to their native countries. The BBC reported in late April that thousands of British citizens, many of whom were elderly, were trapped in India. Although repatriation flights have rescued many of these people, there are still thought to be huge numbers who wish to leave the country.
Families have been broken up, people are running out of medicine, and the Indian government is coming under increasing pressure to provide more clarity on when exactly international flights will be allowed.
Could the UAE get an exemption?
With huge numbers of displaced people looking to either get into or out of the UAE and neighboring nations, it would make absolute sense to allow, under clause 2, some flights to begin operating. Both major UAE carriers are slowly ramping up operations, and would likely be willing to put regular capacity on routes to and from India.
But with the message from the DGCA incredibly cloudy, and both Emirates and Etihad likely preoccupied with services into other parts of the world, it remains to be seen if either will step up and apply to operate flights. This will come as little comfort to the millions stranded and trying to get home.
It was hoped that a June 30th announcement would include good news for international flights. Now, however, it seems that this is not going to happen, at least not before mid-July. The hope now is that June 30th will see the announcement of air bridges or ‘travel bubbles’ to allow some of these people to get home.