Normal international flights by year-end, says civil aviation
The resumption of scheduled international commercial passenger flights will increase travel options for passengers, and potentially lead to lower airfares. The move comes after India reopened its borders to foreign tourists from November 15 amid pressure from travel companies, foreign governments and overseas Indian members.
Currently, scheduled international passenger flights are suspended till November 30. Currently, flights are being operated under air transport bubble agreements. While these are scheduled flights, airlines are only allowed to sell tickets to a limited number of destinations. In the case of some countries, bubble agreements only allow point-to-point traffic. While the government has said that it wants to return to normalcy, its decision will also be guided by the COVID-19 situation in some parts of the world.
The number of international flights operating to/from India is now around 40-45 per cent of the pre-pandemic period.
In the 2019 winter schedule, there were around 1,200 daily international flights. On 23 November, 495 international flights were operated to/from India carrying over 75,000 air passengers.
The number of destinations connected to India has also halved. In the winter schedule, India had direct air connectivity with 60 countries. India has air transport bubble/corridor arrangement with 31 countries allowing two-way traffic.
Even under the bubble pact, the actual capacity deployed (or operated flights) is less than in the period before the pandemic. For example, Indian and United Arab Emirates airlines may offer 33,600 weekly seats between India and Dubai (which is the busiest international destination from India).
Before the pandemic, carriers were allowed to operate with more than 65,000 seats each. However, airlines have increased flights between India and Sharjah as there is no agreement on allowing more capacity in Dubai. In the case of Canada also, the number of flights operated now is higher than in 2019.
Last week, travel agents wrote to the government asking for the resumption of scheduled international passenger flights to enable foreign tourists to come to India.
“The airfares on limited bubble flights have increased manifold and airlines are also ensuring that higher fare categories are being sold. Several international airlines had accepted bookings for future dates and are now canceling these flights, causing further inconvenience to air travelers. Similarly, for Indian students, returning to their colleges in Europe, UK, US and Canada is a major challenge,” the Travel Agents Association of India said in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Those who are planning to return to India for their Christmas break or early January are also facing challenges in getting a seat. Flights are sold out, and fares are skyrocketing too. For example, demand on the US-India route started rising in September and fighting broke out after the two countries announced border restrictions in October.
“The return economy airfare from the US to India (for travel in December and January) averages anywhere between $2,500 and $3,500. At the time of the pre-pandemic, economy class fares were in the range of $1,800 and $2,200 during the high season,” said Arvin Shah, president of US-based Sky Bird Travel & Tours. According to Shah, the demand for travel between the US and India is led by the holiday segment and visiting families. He clarified that as of now there is no demand for corporate travel.
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