India is to increase the number of evacuation and repatriation flights to get back Indians from various parts of the globe, Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister for Civil Aviation said on Saturday. He added that opening up of commercial international flights will happen in due course.
Addressing a press conference, the Minister said that private airlines could operate up to 750 evacuation or repatriation flights while Air India will operate an additional 300 flights under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM). Vande Bharat Mission is the name given to the effort being made to bring back Indians from abroad.
The fourth phase of these flights is expected to begin in July. Official indicated that though the private airlines have offered 750 evacuation or repatriation flights it remains to be seen how many they will be able to operate.
“The fares that the private airline charge for the VBM flights will not be market fares but will be predetermined fares,” Pradeep Kharola, Secretary Civil Aviation said. While during phase I of VBM AI operated over 64 flights bringing back over 12,000 people in phase II Air India operated over 325 flights bringing back close to 60,000 people back.
Turning his attention to when India will open up and allow normal operations by foreign airlines, the Minister said that domestic passenger traffic will have to reach a figure of 50 or 55 per cent of pre COVID levels before a decision on international operations can be taken. He was of the view that domestic passenger traffic could reach the 50-55 per cent mark of the pre-COVID level by mid July this year after which a decision on opening normal international operations can be taken.
Before the Covid pandemic hit India, airports around the country were handling about 300,000 passengers a day. Once domestic flying restarted on May 25 after a gap of two months, the number of passengers flown was around 30,000 which has now risen to between 65,000 to 70,000, officials said.
Air India divestment
The divestment of state owned Air India seems very much on the cards. Puri said, “I have never been as hopeful and confident on Air India’s divestment or disinvestment as I am now,” adding that he has always maintained that it is a first class asset—-it has excellent pilots and engineers, it has routes, it has widebody aircraft, it flies to 40 to 50 destinations outside and during VDM it flew to even more destinations outside. “We need to take a decision on nationalisation. Time is a great healer. We may have lost two or three months because of the pandemic but we have gained a lot of experience on value and how to take this forward,” he added.