No foreign flights at cost of Indian carriers: Puri

No foreign flights at cost of Indian carriers: Puri

Remarks come amid ‘air bubble’ row

Foreign carriers will not be allowed flights into India at the expense of Indian carriers, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri warned on Thursday at a time when India is in the process of negotiating and renegotiating special bilateral arrangements with different countries for allowing limited number of direct flights from and to India.

“Foreign carriers are allowed to fly into India, but the time has come for the message to go out loud and clear that this will be not done at the expense of Indian carriers,” Mr. Puri said at a press conference.

The remarks were made days after the first-ever meeting with Germany’s Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation on the “air bubble” agreement which recently broke forcing both Lufthansa and Air India to cancel their October flights between the two countries. Another meeting is scheduled between the two sides on Friday.

“Negotiations are on and we are hopeful of a resolution soon,” diplomatic sources said.

In a veiled reference to Middle-Eastern carriers as well as other airlines that fly passengers via its hubs to destinations in the U.S. and Europe, Mr. Puri said, “India-U.S. market is a $7 billion market, but the share of Indian carriers is only 17%. This is not to say that U.S. carriers are getting the balance. But we are not insisting on total parity, but even near parity will do.”

Air India is the only Indian carrier that flies to both the U.S. and Europe. Vistara recently launched flights to London and SpiceJet too has plans for London and other long-haul international destinations.

Until September 30, foreign carriers operated 5,120 flights to and from India while Indian carriers operated 2,260 flights, Mr. Puri said adding that while Lufthansa operated 21 flights per week to its destinations in Germany, the latter allowed India only three weekly flights. However, industry sources contested the figure attributed to Lufthansa.

The bone of contention between the two countries is also the “sixth freedom of the air”, or flights operated between two countries via the home State of the carrier. India views Lufthansa’s operations through Frankfurt, into Europe, U.S. and Canada as a threat for its airlines.

Industry sources though say that it is commercially unviable for Lufthansa to fly only direct flights to Munich and Frankfurt

Pre-COVID levels

Indian aviation could see passenger traffic reaching pre-COVID-19 levels as soon as the end of 2020, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri said.

“Between Diwali and end of the year we will not only reach pre-COVID levels, but into the first quarter of the next year we will also surpass pre-COVID levels,” Mr. Puri said at a press briefing.

He said that these expectations were based on the traffic figures witnessed in the first week of October, which is above 1,50,000 unique passenger trips or 50% of pre-COVID levels.

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