India will from next month look at creating travel bubbles with countries that allow access to its citizens and vice versa, while immediately scaling up the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) repatriation exercise.
The government expects domestic passengers movement to touch half of pre-pandemic levels by mid-July after which it will consider allowing international flights under a “bilateral bubble arrangement” with such countries.
Meanwhile, the capping of domestic fares could be extended beyond August 24 depending on the situation. The fare range was introduced for three months when domestic flights resumed on May 25.
“In pre-pandemic times, we used to have 3-3.5 lakh domestic passengers daily. We started with 30,000 passengers on May 25 and since then have seen a maximum of 72,000 domestic passengers on a day. I expect to reach half of the pre-corona level of 1.5-1.6 lakh domestic travellers before mid-July. At that point, we will consider resuming schedule international flights on a country-by-country basis,” aviation minister H S Puri said.
Air India will add more flights under the third and subsequent phases of the Vande Bharat Mission, which will also see private Indian airlines operating 750 flights to Gulf and southeast Asia.
“We will operate 650 flights under VBM-4 in July. The maximum demand for travel is to and from the US, Canada, Europe, Middle East and southeast Asia,” AI chairman Rajiv Bansal said.
Aviation secretary P S Kharola said: “Depending on how the situation turns out, the fare band may have to adjusted beyond August 24 also. But right now, it is only for three months.”
Puri said VBM flights are being operated to ensure people can travel till normal schedule flights begin. “As we ramp up operations further, the fares may fall. AI will tie up with airlines to bring Indians to places in Europe, from say the Carribean, and then fly them to India from there. AI will look at making such arrangement wherever needed,” he said.
About AI privatisation, Puri said: “I have never been more hopeful and confident – be it divestment or disinvestment whatever you choose. AI’s true worth has revealed itself in recent times and it is a first class asset.”