India has signed bilateral agreements with France and the US that will allow airlines of each country to operate international flights starting Friday, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Thursday, adding that similar arrangements with Germany and the UK are being worked out too.
"Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-COVID numbers, I think the answer lies in bilateral air bubbles which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions including India," the minister said at a news conference.
American carrier United Airlines will be flying 18 flights between India and the US from July 17 to July 31 and Air France will be operating 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from July 18 to August 1, he said.
"They (United) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco," Mr Puri said.
The minister said India is planning to establish such agreements with the UK soon under which there would be two flights per day between Delhi and London.
"We have got a request from Germans also. I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost done... We are processing that request," Mr Puri said.
"Now we have many demands for air bubbles, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle," the minister said.
From India, Air India will be operating flights to France and US under these bubbles.
The announcement comes weeks after the US threatened to take action, accusing India of "unfair and discriminatory practices" for running exclusive paid flights under its "Vande Bharat Mission" to bring back Indians from other countries.
Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After nearly two months of suspension to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the government resumed scheduled domestic passenger flights on May 25.
However, it had then allowed the airlines to operate maximum 33 per cent of their pre-COVID domestic flights. The Civil Aviation Ministry increased the limits on June 26 from 33 per cent to 45 per cent.
"We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we would have 55-60 per cent of pre-COVID domestic flights operating in India," Mr Puri said at the news conference.
(With inputs from agencies)