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India in talks with US, European countries on establishing air travel bubbles

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New Delhi, July 03: India is in talks with the US and Canada and the countries in European and Gulf regions on establishing individual bilateral bubbles which will allow airlines of each country in the pact to operate international flights, said Arvind Singh, Chairman, Airports Authority of India (AAI), on Thursday.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) had on June 23 said India is considering establishing "individual bilateral bubbles" with the US, the UK, Germany and France.

India in talks with US, European countries on establishing air travel bubbles

Singh said, "This morning, I took a brief from the key point person (from the MOCA) who is negotiating with the countries, and he said that we are in constant touch. We are working on a consensus to restart the international flights. This is going to be through air bubbles."

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"Talks are mainly going on between India and the US, India and Canada, India and Europe and India and the Gulf countries to start flights in these bubbles," he said at a webinar called "Reposing the faith in flying" organised by the GMR group.

Scheduled international passenger flights remain suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Singh said the MOCA official has informed him that the discussion with the countries is at a "very advanced" level and the effort is to restart international flights at the earliest.

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    "I am sure there would be a positive outcome of the talks with the US, Canada and with the Gulf countries and the negotiations are going on," he noted.

    The EU has presently banned the flights from India as the number of coronavirus cases are rising in the country, Singh said.

    Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had on June 20 said the government will start thinking on the resumption of scheduled international passenger flights in mid-July, when it expects the domestic air traffic to reach 50-55 per cent of the levels before the coronavirus.

    After nearly two months of suspension to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights on May 25.

    However, it had then allowed the airlines to operate the maximum 33 per cent of their pre-COVID flights. The MOCA increased the limits on June 26 from 33 per cent to 45 per cent.

    The MOCA on June 23 had said, "As we contemplate further opening up in response to demands, we are looking at the prospect of establishing individual bilateral bubbles, India-US, India-France, India-Germany, India-UK. These are all destinations where demand for travel has not diminished. Final decisions pursuant to negotiations are expected to be taken soon."

    "We have received requests from authorities in several countries including the US, France, Germany among others requesting 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," it added.

    Air India started international chartered flights under the Vande Bharat Mission from May 6 to help people stranded due to the pandemic reach their destinations.

    The MOCA's June 23 statement had come after the US Department of Transport (DOT) said on June 22 that it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charter flights as a way of circumventing the government of India-imposed prohibition of all scheduled international services.

    "We are taking this action (of allowing only those Air India flights from July 22 that have DOT's approval) because the Government of India has impaired the operating rights of the US carriers and has engaged in discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to the US carrier services to and from India," the DOT had said.

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