After the US announced restrictions on Air India's special repatriation flights alleging "unfair and discriminatory practices", the government said on Tuesday it is examining requests by America and other countries to operate these flights. The civil aviation ministry said it is exploring bilateral arrangements with countries to bring back Indians stranded in various countries because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The US transportation department said on Monday that Air India's charters "go beyond true repatriations, and it appears that Air India may be using repatriation charters as a way of circumventing flight restrictions".
In response, the government said it is looking at the possibility of bilateral arrangements for the repatriation flights currently operated only by national carrier Air India.
The repatriation flights are increasingly also taking foreign nationals to their home countries, said the ministry. "As we contemplate further opening up in response to demands, we are looking at the prospect of establishing individual bilateral bubbles -- India-US, India-France, India-Germany, India-UK," it said.
Negotiations were on and a decision would be taken soon, said the government.
Countries like the US, France and Germany have requested that their airlines be allowed to operate the repatriation flights like Air India. "These requests are being examined. We have also had one round of negotiations with US on June 15 with representatives of US Department of Transportation and US Embassy on this issue. They were invited to submit precise proposals in this respect. A communication has now been received on 19 June detailing these requests," the ministry statement said.
The US, imposing restrictions, had said the airline would need to apply for permission before operating the special flights so that they can be "scrutinized more closely". The restrictions would be reconsidered when India lifted restrictions on American carriers, the transportation department said.
The department complained that since US airlines are currently banned from flying to India, it "creates a competitive disadvantage for US carriers."