National carrier Air India Limited and its subsidiary Air India Express has so far ferried 66,831 Indians from abroad on 365 flights on its repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission, while 17,180 passengers have travelled on 369 outbound flights by the national carrier to various foreign nations, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Monday.
The national carrier had on last Friday opened bookings for around 300 flights to various countries like the USA and UK under the third phase of its Vande Bharat Mission to repatriate Indians stranded abroad during the covid-19 pandemic. However, the airline faced an overwhelming demand for its tickets with most tickets being sold out within hours. Air India had started the first phase of the Vande Bharat Mission on 7 May.
Those being brought back on Air India planes under the Vande Bharat Mission have to pay about ₹100,000 if they are coming from the US, about ₹20,000 for those coming from Singapore, and about ₹12,000 for people from Bangladesh.
On Monday, the aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that Air India hasn't overcharged for tickets, though fares charged by the national carrier under the Vande Bharat Mission are often much higher than normal commercial fares.
"Civil Aviation operations cannot but reflect the costing. Normal operations are different from evacuation operations. Aircrafts have to be parked for upto 40 hours on long haul routes before the return journey during Vande Bharat Mission. There are other costs involved as well," he said.
"Please remember that unlike special charter, AirIndia is charging these fares for scheduled flights and earning revenue both ways," he said.
The minister said that charges for tickets under the Vande Bharat Mission is lower than some of the charter repatriation flights offered by foreign airlines.
"VBM (Vande Bharat Mission) charges ₹13K per passenger on Gulf routes & planes fly empty on one leg. According to information in public domain pvt carriers/charters are charging upwards of ₹20K for same," Puri said on twitter.
"Similarly, the fare on flights to Houston, as engaged by the concerned embassy, was ₹3 lakhs, while our citizens pay ₹1.03 lakhs on a flight to US under Mission Vande Bharat," he added.
Currently, only national carrier Air India Ltd and its subsidiary Air India Express have repatriated thousands of Indian citizens from various nations following the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdowns in several nations.Private airlines will likely be allowed to participate on repatriation mission during the next phase of Vande Bharat Mission.
"On flights between India & Canada, our citizens pay ₹1.07 lakhs as compared to ₹1.62 lakhs to Toronto & ₹1.84 lakhs to Vancouver charged by charters organised by the concerned embassy," Puri said.
"Travelers to Tel-Aviv paid ₹82,500 on the charters organised by the concerned embassy while Indian citizens pay ₹51,938 on flights under Vande Bharat Mission," he added.