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India may allow scheduled international flights by end of year: Official

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India may allow scheduled international flights by the end of the year, secretary, ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), Rajiv Bansal said on Wednesday.

The move comes amid a continuing fall in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country — currently, daily cases are the lowest since last June — riding vaccinations, and swelling domestic air passenger traffic, now up to almost pre-pandemic levels, according to Bansal. In February 2020, before the pandemic hit India (the country recorded its first local cases in early March), the passenger traffic was 400,000 a day.

“The current daily domestic passengers is from 3.8 to 3.98 lakh passengers,” Bansal added.

India removed capacity restrictions on domestic flights in October.

Minister of civil aviation, Jyotiraditya Scindia said last week that the ministry was evaluating the process of reopening international flights .

“We want to resume the international operations but in a safe environment. Despite vaccinations, countries like Russia and parts of Europe are fighting the fourth wave of the pandemic. Hence we cannot let our guard down,” Scindia said on November 18.

Scheduled international passenger flights to and from India were suspended in March 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Indians are flying to and from India currently under air bubble arrangements that allow passengers of two countries to fly with some restrictions. India has air-bubble pacts with 28 countries, including the US, UK, UAE, and France.

Reacting to the announcement of the likely resumption of full international operations, Suprio Banerjee, Vice President & Sector Head – Corporate Ratings, ICRA Ltd. said, “In ICRA`s view, opening up of scheduled international operations will be a step in the right direction, given on a sequential basis from June 2021 onwards there has been a steady rise in VBM traffic.”

He added: “For October 2021, international passenger traffic for Indian carriers under the VBM stood at around 5.3 lakh, a sequential growth of around 30%. These statistics clearly show the uptick in demand for international travel lately. Also with holiday season kicking in, with Christmas and New year around the corner, opening up of scheduled international operations can provide a much needed boost to international travel.”

VBM stands for Vande Bharat Mission; originally launched to evacuate stranded Indians, VBM has since expanded to include flights under air-bubble pacts.

According to ICRA, the total international passenger traffic (inbound and outbound) for Indian carriers under Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) was around 5.1 million for the period between May 7, 2020 to October 31, 2021.

International traffic more than doubled to 5.3 lakh passengers in October this year compared to 2.55 lakh in October 2020.

Kapil Kaul, CEO of advisory firm CAPA, reiterated that resumption of international services is critical.

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