Source: Business Standards, 25 November 2021
International passenger flights are expected to regularise possibly by the end of the year, Civil Aviation Secretary Rajiv Bansal said on Wednesday.
A restart of scheduled international commercial passenger flights will increase travel options for passengers, and potentially lower airfares. The move comes close on the heels of India reopening its borders to foreign tourists from November 15 amid pressure from travel companies, foreign governments, and members of the Indian diaspora.
At present, scheduled international passenger flights are suspended till November 30. Right now, flights are being operated under air transport bubble agreements. While these are scheduled flights, airlines are allowed to sell tickets for only a limited number of destinations. In the case of certain countries, bubble agreements allow for only point-to-point traffic. While the government has asserted it wants a return to normalcy, its decision will also be guided by the Covid-19 situation in certain parts of the world.
The number of international flights operating to/from India now are around 40-45 per cent of the pre-pandemic period.
In the winter schedule of 2019, there were around 1,200 daily international flights. On November 23, 495 international flights were operated to/from India, ferrying over 75,000 air passengers.
The number of destinations linked with India, too, has halved. In the winter schedule, India had direct air connectivity to 60 countries. India has entered into air transport bubble/corridor arrangements with 31 countries, permitting two-way traffic.
Even under the bubble pact, the actual capacity deployed (or flights operated) is lower than the pre-pandemic period. For instance, Indian and United Arab Emirates airlines can offer 33,600 weekly seats each between India and Dubai (which is the busiest international destination from India).
Prior to the pandemic, carriers were allowed to operate over 65,000 seats each. Airlines, however, have increased flights between India and Sharjah since there is no agreement on allowing more capacity to Dubai. In the case of Canada as well, the number of flights operated now is higher than in 2019.
Last week, travel agents wrote to the government to restart scheduled international passenger flights to enable foreign tourists to visit India.
“Airfares on limited bubble flights have increased multifold and airlines, too, are ensuring higher fare categories are being sold. Many international airlines had accepted bookings for future dates and are now cancelling these flights, causing further inconvenience to air travellers. Similarly, for Indian students, there is a huge challenge to return to their colleges in Europe, the UK, the US, and Canada,” said the Travel Agents Association of India, in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Those planning to return to India during their Christmas break or early January, too, are facing challenges in getting seats. Flights are sold out, and fares, too, are sky high. For instance, the demand on the US-India route began picking up in September and fights started filling up after both countries announced EASING OF border restrictions in October.
“The return economy airfare from the US to India (for travel in December and January) ranges anywhere between $2,500 and $3,500 on average. Pre-pandemic times, economy class fares were in the range of $1,800 and $2,200 during the high season,” said Arvin Shah, chairman of US-based Sky Bird Travel & Tours. According to Shah, the demand for travel between the US and India is led by the leisure segment and those visiting families. There is no demand for corporate travel as yet, he clarified.
In winter schedule 2019 there were around 1,200 daily international flights to/from India
495 international flights were operated on November 23
Prior to pandemic India had direct air connectivity with around 60 countries. At present air transport bubbles have been signed with 31 countries. Charter and repatriation flights too are being operated to certain countries
India opened for foreign tourists from November 15. Travel agents seeking resumption of scheduled international flights as limited number of flights has led to higher airfares