India extends ban on regular international air travel again by a month

The DGCA clarified that this restriction would not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights that it specifically approves

India extends ban on regular international air travel again by a month
Passengers in front of the Air India counter in Washington DC for a VBM flight to Delhi. Image courtesy: Twitter/@IndianEmbassyUS

The ban on scheduled commercial international passenger flights continues to be extended by India one month at a time in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, even as several countries have put India itself on travel 'red lists' considering the frightening Covid resurgence that the latter has been seeing. The Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has extended the ban on regular international air travel to June 30. 

"In partial modification of the circular dated 26.6.2020, the competent authority has further extended the validity of the circular issued on the subject cited above (travel and visa restrictions related to Covid-19) regarding scheduled international commercial passenger services to/from India till 2359 hrs IST of 30th June 2021," the DGCA said in a circular dated May 28. 

The aviation regulator, however, clarified that this restriction would not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights that it specifically approves.

International cargo flights are regularly being operated to transport essential Covid relief materials, like oxygen concentrators and vaccines, which have provided India with the lifeline it required in the face of a severe oxygen and vaccine shortage, which has made its Covid battle all the more difficult. 

Cargo flights had also been operated when the pandemic broke out last year and a nationwide lockdown was imposed. These flights transported essential supplies abroad and also picked up supplies for India. Cargo flights had also been mounted by Indian carriers to send vaccines across the world as part of the government's diplomatic strategy. 

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Indian carriers led by Air India have also been undertaking giant-scale repatriation of stranded people under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM). According to data provided by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), till April 30, as many as 61,10,130 people have arrived under the mission through various channels -- air, land and sea. Till June 1, the Air India group operated 13,044 inbound and 13,041 outbound flights, carrying 19,81,621 and 14,78,774 passengers respectively covering regions like South Asia, South East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, Africa, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Oceania, Scandinavia and North America.     

As a precursor to the VBM, India had, in fact, since February 2020, organised the repatriation of stricken Indian and foreign nationals in some of the worst Covid-19 hotspot countries of the world, including China, from where the coronavirus had originated. It had also been providing safe flight for foreigners stranded in India to their native places.

Air bubble flights between India and 27 other countries (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, UAE, US, UK, Ukraine and Uzbekistan) have kept India connected to the world at a time when scheduled commercial international air travel has stayed suspended.

However, the ban on flights from India by several countries has affected both the VBM and air bubble flights. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said last year that India's decision to resume scheduled commercial international air travel depended on other countries' readiness to accept flights. With flights from India being prohibited by many countries, the resumption of regular international passenger air travel by India seems to be in jeopardy.  

Also read: Sri Lanka bans flyers from India after putting air bubble plan in cold storage

India had imposed a ban on regular international flights from March 23, 2020, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and since then has periodically extended the ban. The emergence of mutant strains of the virus in several countries has also made the Indian authorities circumspect. 

The Covid situation in India had attracted global shock when more than three lakh and then more than four lakh daily cases started to be reported in April-May. However, things have begun to change for the better and according to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) data on June 2, India reported 1.32 lakh daily new cases in 24 hours, and active cases further declined below 20 lakh. On June 1, India had reported its lowest daily new cases in 54 days, with a figure of 1.27 lakh. Active cases on June 1 fell below 20 lakh after 43 days. The recovery rate on June 2 increased to 92.48%. Deaths, however, rose by 3,207 on June 2.