When will India resume international flights?

Up in the air.
Up in the air.
Image: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
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Indians may have to hold off their international holiday plans for now.

Restrictions on commercial international flight operations from India, which were first imposed in March 2020 in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, may last for the most part of 2021, experts believe.

Last month, the Narendra Modi government extended the restrictions until April 30, but given the current strong second wave of the pandemic, the ban will most likely get further extended. “The constantly rising cases in India will make it difficult for normal international flight operations to resume anytime before July. The current Covid situation in the country might push the ban until August,” said Ashish Nainan, an aviation expert from Mumbai.

Currently, the only international flights allowed from India are the ones under the government’s air bubble agreements with 28 nations, or those operating for the purpose of repatriation.

While travellers are restricted, this spells bad news for the already ailing aviation industry.

Indian aviation’s struggle

After being completely grounded for the first couple of months of the pandemic in 2020, Indian airlines have managed to resume domestic operations with Covid-19 protocols. However, domestic airfare is currently capped by the government. Aviation companies could make more money if international flights were permitted.

“There may be an initial spike in prices on account of pent-up demand whenever a destination opens up,” said Rajiv Subramanian, vice president of a Mumbai-based travel portal Cleartrip.

But even if the government were to allow international flights, it won’t be a cakewalk for aviation firms. For instance, it would be a nightmare flying to different countries with their varied coronavirus-related restrictions.

“The complexity of regulations and the level of incidence of the disease would be critical determinants for destination choice,” Subramanian of Cleartrip said. “We see numerous initiatives globally on digital passports/travel passes, and this thrust towards digitalisation should reduce paperwork and, to some extent, simplify international travel.”