Scheduled international passenger flights have remained suspended since 23 March, 2020. Overseas flights are being operated now under bilateral air bubble arrangements with various countries.
On 8 March, the civil aviation ministry announced that regular overseas flights will resume from March 27 amid a decline in coronavirus cases.
On 26 November last year, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had announced the resumption of scheduled international passenger flights from 15 December, 2021, but a few days later, the decision was revoked following a surge in coronavirus cases due to the Omicron variant.
The Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) in the national capital, which is also the country’s largest airport, expects international flight departures to witness a significant jump in the first week of April after the resumption of regular international operations.
While Indian carriers are prepared for normal international services, various foreign airlines, including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and LOT Polish have also announced plans about their services to and from India.
Government declared relaxation in Covid curbs
The Centre has announced several relaxations to the existing Covid-19 regulations at airports and on flights.
The new rules by the ministry of civil aviation say that, cabin crew members are no longer needed to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and security personnel at airports can resume pat-down search of passengers, wherever needed.
Airlines also need not keep three seats vacant on international flights for medical emergencies, the government announced.
The Centre has relaxed these rules to facilitate a “smooth conduct of air operations” as the number of coronavirus infections continue to dip along with high level of vaccinations, read a recent ministry order.
However, wearing of protective face masks and maintenance of hand hygiene/sanitiser is still mandatory at airports and on flights, the Centre said.
“Airlines may carry a few additional PPE protective gears, sanitiser and N-95 masks, to handle any respiratory infections related to cases on air, for passengers as well as the crew,” the ministry further noted.
International airline companies
In a statement on Saturday, IndiGo Chief Commercial Officer Willy Boulter said the airline is keen on resuming international operations back to pre-Covid levels but that will also depend on factors like arrival guidelines of various countries.
“We certainly have plans to open new destinations in the near future as well as pump up capacity on our existing routes as travel further opens up. Reaching economies of scale in such a dynamic environment where ATF and other fixed costs are constantly going up, becomes challenging,” he said.
On Friday, a DIAL spokesperson said, “Post resumption of commercial operations, South East Asia and Europe are expected to be the main drivers of further international passenger growth”.
DIAL, the operator of IGIA, expects to connect to over 60 international destinations after the resumption of regular overseas flights.
IGIA is the country’s largest airport and handled around 1.8 lakh passengers per day during pre-COVID times.
The spokesperson had also said the number of international Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) is likely to increase from 165 per day to 300 per day in summer 2022.
The total weekly departures of international flights are expected to increase 66 per cent in the first week of April once the regular overseas flights commence, according to the spokesperson.
This is in comparison to the flights that operated under bilateral air bubble arrangements during winter 2021.
On Friday, Gulf carrier Emirates said it would re-introduce pre-pandemic service frequency across its destinations in the country from April 1.
Prior to late March 2020, when the scheduled international services were stopped by India, Emirates was operating 170 weekly flights to nine destinations, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
All these flights are being restored now, starting from 1 April, as per the airline.
These 170 weekly flights include 35 services to Mumbai, 28 to Delhi, 24 to Bengaluru, 21 each to Chennai and Hyderabad, 14 to Kochi, 11 to Kolkata, nine to Ahmedabad and seven to Thiruvananthapuram.
SriLankan Airlines, on Friday, said it would start operating up to 88-weekly flights to India to match the pre-COVID flight schedule. The airline flies to nine cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Chennai and Bangalore.
British carrier Virgin Atlantic would start a second daily service between Delhi and London starting from 1 June. Coupled with its service from Mumbai, Virgin Atlantic will offer three daily flights from India, it said on Friday.
“American Airlines is proud to serve India with daily service between New York (JFK) and New Delhi (DEL). As India resumes international flying, we look forward to expanding our presence in the country as we deepen our partnership with IndiGo and plan to launch new service between Seattle (SEA) and Bangalore (BLR) later this year,” Rhett Workman, Managing Director – Europe, Middle East and Asia Operations at American Airlines, said in a statement on Friday.
Poland-based LOT Polish Airlines, on Thursday, said it would commence flights to Mumbai from 31 May and resume services to Delhi from 29 March.
Aviation industry in India post pandemic
The aviation sector in India is still recovering from the Omicron-led slump that suppressed the travel demands in January.
In February, around 76.96 lakh domestic passengers travelled by air, approximately 20% more than in January.
Flights were resumed again in July that year by means of a so-called air bubble arrangement with 37 countries through which flights were allowed in a limited manner.
The government had also allowed full domestic flight operations from 18 October 2021.
India recorded 1,660 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday and 4,100 fatalities, including backlog deaths. The country has been recording less than 2,000 cases and 100 deaths in a day for nearly a week.
Meanwhile, new threats of a highly transmissible variant have started emerging after a fresh increase of infections in China and several European countries.
(With inputs from PTI)