International flights to and from India are set to resume fully from March 27, two years after the country imposed a total ban on them to curb the spread of COVID-19 cases.
“After having recognised the increased vaccination coverage across the globe and in consultation with stakeholders, the Government of India has decided to resume scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India from 27.03.2022, i.e. start of Summer Schedule 2022,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Tuesday.
It added that reopening of scheduled international flights would imply that countries would have to revert to bilaterally agreed capacity entitlements (number of passenger seats) under the air service agreements.
‘”This step will provide impetus to the economic recovery of the sector and the nation, with borders opening for tourists. We will soon be announcing the schedule for our international destinations,” said IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta.
Though regular or scheduled international flights were banned on March 23, 2021, four months later the government started entering into bilateral “air-bubble” agreements with different countries starting with France, Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. amidst opposition by some of these countries to Air India’s repatriation flights (or Vande Bharat flights) for Indians stranded around the world due to travel curbs in the wake of COVID-19. This allowed only a limited number of direct flights to and from these countries. Today, India has agreements with 36 countries.
The government had announced reopening of flights in November last year, but had to reverse the decision within days following the spread of Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Health Ministry norms
Passengers on international flights will have to follow the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s guidelines. These require travellers arriving in India to fill up a self-declaration form on the Air Suvidha portal before undertaking their journey and uploading a negative COVID RT-PCR report or certificate of completing primary vaccination schedule. Symptomatic passengers on arrival will be sent to a medical facility, and 2% of total passengers on an aircraft will have to undergo random post-arrival testing.
While Indian airlines will have the first-mover advantage with their fleet being under-utilised, international airlines could take 4-6 weeks to redeploy planes and ramp up capacity for India.
‘Great news for industry’
“This is great news for all travelers and the industry, especially before the peak summer season. The demand for international travel is picking up in India and there has been a significant uptick in travel search queries for popular international destinations like Australia, Sri Lanka, the U.S. and the U.K. Travel search queries from India for Australian cities like Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney have jumped 15-20% this month. We are seeing a trend of travelers now eager to book long-haul destinations, fuelled by international borders reopening and relaxation of rules across the globe. Resumption of international commercial flights will also regularise the demand-supply balance, resulting in lower international airfares,” said Aloke Bajpai, Co-founder and Group CEO, ixigo
International flight movements today stand at nearly 40% of pre-COVID levels. Before COVID-19 there were 4,700 departures per week, which include 2,300 aircraft departures by international carriers and 2,400 departures by domestic carriers. This figure currently is at 2,100 departures per week. According to data from the Airports Authority of India, total international passengers in January 2022 were at 25 lakh, while in January 2020 they were at 64.9 lakh.