4 nations to use Air India to repatriate their citizens

4 nations to use Air India to repatriate their citizens

But flights won’t bring back Indians

Four countries — France, Germany, Ireland and Canada — have chartered Air India’s services to repatriate their citizens from India.

However, none of the flights will bring any Indians or other passengers stranded in these places back with them due to the continuing travel restrictions, officials clarified.

Air India will be mounting 18 flights to Paris and Frankfurt and will fly Canadian and Irish citizens to London, Air India Chairman and Managing Director, Rajeev Bansal, said at a press conference on Thursday.

A flight to London Heathrow will depart daily from Delhi from April 4 to 7 and from Mumbai on April 5 and 7. Flights to Frankfurt have commenced.

“This is a commercial contract between different countries and Air India,” Minister of State for Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri said.

However, India has no plans to mount any special flights to bring back its citizens until the lockdown is over. “Lockdown is till April 14 and resumption of flights from different countries will be decided on a case-by-case basis,” Mr. Puri said.

India has so far brought back 1000-1500 Indians from China, Iran, Japan and Italy, Secretary, P.S. Kharola told mediapersons.

It is reliably learnt that a few international airlines, including Gulf carriers, have written to Indian missions in different countries seeking permission to fly Indians stranded there back to their home country, but their requests have been turned down. “We have been approached by several Indians, including those from Kuwait,” an executive of an international airline said on the condition of anonymity.

Various officials in the Indian government maintain that the reason for not allowing any more Indians to return is because of inadequate quarantine facilities for them.

According to an official estimate, there are about 25,000 Indians waiting to return as soon as the lockdown ends. Among them are students whose universities are shut down, business travellers who were unable to return in time before the shutdown, and tourists who were stopped from boarding when the Indian travel bans went into place.

Officials said that the Ministry of External Affairs was continuing to “ensure that Indians stranded abroad are taken care of by embassies and consulates,” with assistance from local NGOs and Indian community organisations. “We are asking stranded Indians to stay put wherever they are in view of the local restrictions as well as travelling restrictions to and within India. This is good for their own health and safety as well as those of their family and larger community,” one official said.

Officials also point out that it will take some days to clear the backlog of passengers, given their numbers, and depending on how quickly regular commercial flights will be allowed to resume. Many have spent money buying tickets on airlines that cancelled flights and are unable to afford another full fare ticket, and will need assistance.

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