Sunday, September 19, 2021

Flying to 18 countries a possibility in September under Air Bubble pact

The Ministry of Civil Aviation has resumed international flight operations under the air bubble arrangement with 18 countries for September 2021. These include flight operations between India and Kabul, India and Bahrain, India and New York, India and London among several others cities. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has been operating flights under the air-bubble agreement since regular flight operations were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The schedule of these flights is available only till September 30.

What is an Air-Bubble agreement?

“Transport Bubbles” or “Air Travel Arrangements” are temporary arrangements between two countries. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, normal flight operations suffered. As a result, air travel arrangements were established between countries to restart commercial passenger services in absence of regular international flights.

They are reciprocal in nature, meaning airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits.

As of August 11, 2021, India has signed an air-bubble pact with 28 countries. These include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Maldives, Russia, UAE, USA, UK among several other nations. Both stranded nationals and persons eligible (according to MHA guidelines) can fly through these flights. However, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has advised passengers to confirm whether they are allowed entry into the destination country before making any reservations in the flights being operated under the air-bubble arrangement.

Travel countries in September

The other international cities where passengers can travel in September are – Kabul (Afghanistan), Bahrain, Dhaka (Bangladesh), Toronto and Vancouver (Canada), Paris (France), Frankfurt (Germany), Narita (Japan), Nairobi (Kenya), Kuwait, Male (Maldives), Kathmandu (Nepal), Muscat (Oman), Doha (Qatar), Moscow (Russia), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dubai, Abu Dhabi (UAE), London, Birmingham (UK), New York, Chicago, Washington D.C, Newark, San Francisco (USA).

Air Bubble agreement with Bangladesh

Considering the need and urgency of travel of citizens, India resumed flight operations with its neighbor Bangladesh from September 5, 2021, under the Air Bubble pact. India has created an air travel arrangement with Bangladesh w.e.f October 28, 2020. This arrangement was valid till March 27, 2021.

Similarly, India created an air bubble arrangement with Russia with effect from February 12, 2021, and Seychelles with effect from February 22, 2021.

India had entered into Air Bubble agreements with 10 countries i.e. USA, Canada, France, Germany, UK, Maldives, UAE, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Bahrain, till September 13, 2020.

Vande Bharat Mission

The Indian Government operated the Vande Bharat Mission under the bilateral Air Bubble agreement to bring home its citizens, stranded in different countries due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions.

As of July 24, 2021, 128 lakh passengers have traveled under the Vande Bharat Mission. More than 88,000 inbound flights have been operated and over 71 lakh passengers have returned to India from more than 100 countries. Further, more than 87,600 outbound flights have been operated and over 57 lakh passengers have traveled from India to foreign countries. The Mission commenced on May 7, 2020, and has continued ever since.

Suspension of International Passenger flights till Sept 30

The Centre on Sunday, August 29 extended the suspension on international scheduled commercial flights till September 30 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. “However, international scheduled flights may be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on a case-to-case basis,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in a press release.

Scheduled international passenger services in India are not in operation since March 23, 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The DGCA circular also said that the suspension does not affect the operation of international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by it. The restrictions on international flight operations were to end on August 31.

Extension of visa for stranded foreign nationals

Earlier, on September 2, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had announced the extension of the Indian visa or stay stipulation period of foreign nationals stranded in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The foreign nationals can stay in the country till September 30, 2021.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, foreigners who were on a visit to India on various types of visas before March 2020, got stranded in the country due to the absence of flights to their respective destinations.

The Central Government had facilitated the stay of such foreign nationals within India by giving a deemed extension of their regular visa or e-visa or stay stipulation period on a gratis basis without levy of any overstay penalty. The facility was to expire on August 31, 2021, but has now been extended by the Central Government till September 30, 2021.

Such foreign nationals, stranded in the country are not be required to submit an application to the FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office)/FRO (Foreigners Registration Office) for the extension of their visas till September 30, 2021.

However, before exiting the country, such persons may apply online for exit permission on the e-FRRO portal, which would be granted by the FRRO/FRO concerned on a gratis basis without the levy of any overstay penalty.

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