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Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri
Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri

Vande Bharat Mission: Govt offers 750 repatriation flights to private airlines

  • Civil aviation ministry will soon meet airlines and find a solution to the refund issue, civil aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said
  • Capping of domestic airfares, which remain till 24 August, may be extended depending on the situation, Kharola added

NEW DELHI : The government has offered private carriers as many as 750 flights to operate under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) to repatriate stranded Indians from foreign countries, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Saturday.

"About 40 of the 750 flights offered to private airlines under Vande Bharat Mission has already been scheduled. Air India Group will operate 300 additional flights under the Vande Bharat Mission, However, I am not sure if all 1000 (additional) flights will be availed (by the airlines)," Puri said at a press conference.

During the first two phases of VBM, national carrier Air India Ltd., and its subsidiary Air India Express, were the only airlines that were allowed to repatriate stranded Indians from foreign countries.

The Air India Group is set to operate about 650 flights under the VBM during July, the company's chairman and managing director Rajiv Bansal said.

Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express brought back 109,203 passengers to India under VBM, till 18 June.

Meanwhile, Puri said that the government would consider opening up international flights on a case to case basis in future, without elaborating on a time frame for resumption of international flights.

"For international air travel, (the first condition is that) you need the airspace to be open. That means you must allow people to fly in. You must have the border acceptance to be free. What happens as a result of covid-19 is that many countries decided not to allow nationals other than their own to come in," Puri said.

"We are now constrained by the conditionality's about the entry of passengers (imposed by nations). The second condition is quarantine conditions, which you can deal with. Third is the extent of domestic and international traffic allowed in these countries," Puri added.

The government will consider resumption of international flights once domestic traffic reaches 50%-55% capacity. At present, domestic airlines can operate upto 33% of its capacity.

However, airlines are currently operating at below 33% capacity, as they struggled to fill seats in the last seven days of the month, monthly data released by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) showed.

"Airlines will increase domestic frequencies on certain routes where there is (heavy) demand in the coming days. New destinations, like Aurangabad, and others, will be added by airlines," Puri said adding that the maximum daily traffic recorded by airlines post resumption of domestic flights stood at 72,000 passengers, up from 30,000 passengers when domestic flights resumed late-May.

The minister added that he expects Indian aviation to return to pre-covid level, in terms of passengers, airport footfall and aircraft movement, by end of the year.

Meanwhile, civil aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said that capping of domestic airfares, which remain till 24 August, may be extended depending on the situation.

On the issue of refunds of air tickets, Kharola added that the civil aviation ministry will soon meet airlines and find a solution to the issue.

The Supreme Court had earlier in June asked the central government to respond to a plea seeking directions to airlines for full refund of tickets of flights cancelled due to covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown.

Kharol added that the government favour ramping up of domestic capacity, which is currently set at 33%, once the demand goes up.

" If there is demand, we will take it up. (As of now) we will add more routes within the 33%. Our target is to reach 50-55% (capacity). Then we will start looking at that next stage," Kharola added.

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