International flight operations are expected to return to normal “by the end of the year”, Rajiv Bansal, the Aviation Ministry Secretary, was quoted by news agency PTI on Wednesday.
All international flights (except those on repatriation missions and carrying essential goods, like medicines and food) were grounded in March last year, as the country went into a Covid lockdown.
Restrictions were eased once the number of cases dropped and as vaccination coverage increased, with ‘air bubble’ arrangements negotiated with other countries. India currently has 25 such deals.
Under an air bubble arrangement, international passenger flights can be operated by member countries’ respective carriers into each other’s territories, subject to certain conditions.
Last week Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the government was evaluating the process of normalising international flight ops.
He said that while the government was keen for things to return to normal, it would take measures to guard against a renewed wave of coronavirus infections, particularly since several major European nations have recorded frightening surge in daily new cases.
“I am all for regaining our space in the civil aviation arena in the world and making a hub in India and for more wide body aircraft. We will get there but bear with me and trust me… I am on your side. We will work together but in a safe environment,” he said at a public event.
Domestic flights – similarly restricted during the lockdown – were allowed at full capacity from last month, after also having only been allowed a certain number of flights in each sector initially.
The government resumed domestic flight ops in May last year after a two-month break.
Airlines were initially allowed to operate a maximum of 33 per cent of all pre-Covid routes. That cap was gradually increased to 80 per cent by December last year. Occupancy rates were reduced to 50 per cent in June this year, after the country was hit by a second wave of infections and deaths.
As prep for re-opening international passenger air travel, the government last month also said it would resume granting tourist visas; this was restarted November 15.
Grant of tourist visas had also been suspended in the wake of the pandemic.