India negotiating with 13 more nations to establish bilateral air bubble arrangements: Hardeep Singh Puri  

New Delhi: India is negotiating with 13 countries, including Australia, Japan and Singapore, to establish separate bilateral air bubble arrangements. This is being done for resumption of international flight operations. The information was given Tuesday by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. Under a bilateral air bubble pact, airlines of both the countries can operate international flights with certain restrictions.

Puri said on Twitter air bubbles have also been proposed with our neighbours Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan.  Since July, India has established such air bubbles with some countries. They are the US, the UK, France, Germany, the UAE, Qatar and the Maldives.

“We are now taking these efforts forward and are negotiating with 13 more countries to establish such arrangements,” Puri said. “These countries include Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Bahrain, Israel, Kenya, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand,” he added.

Scheduled international passenger flights continue to remain suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Going forward, Puri said, India will consider such bilateral arrangements with countries other than the ones mentioned above. “It is always our endeavour to reach out to every stranded citizen. No Indian will be left behind,” he said.

After a gap of two months due to the coronavirus-triggered lockdown, India resumed domestic passenger flights on May 25.  However, average occupancy rate in Indian domestic flights has been around just 50-60 per cent since then.

Currently, airlines in India are permitted to operate 45 per cent of their pre-COVID domestic flights. The aviation sector has been significantly impacted due to the travel restrictions imposed in India and other countries. All airlines in India have taken cost-cutting measures such as pay cuts, leave-without-pay and firings of employees in order to conserve cash.