Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday said the time has come to send a loud and clear message that foreign airlines' flights will not be allowed at the expense of Indian airlines.
On September 28, Lufthansa had to cancel its flights between India and Germany from September 30 to October 20 as the DGCA withdrew permission for them saying there are restriction on Indians who want to travel to Germany and this puts "Indian carriers at a significant disadvantage resulting in inequitable distribution of traffic in favour of Lufthansa".
During a press conference, Puri said, "The issue is not about allowing foreign carriers in or not. We are all for foreign carriers operating here. Make no mistake. But I think the time has come for the message to go out loud and clear that it will not be done at the expense of the Indian carriers."
"Under the regulated (air bubble) arrangements, we are not insisting on total parity. Even near parity will do," the minister added. After the aforementioned Directorate General of Civil Aviation's (DGCA)decision that led to cancellation of Lufthansa's flights, Air India was forced to cancel all Frankfurt flights till October 14 as Germany withdrew permission for them.
Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, special international flights have been allowed since July under the bilateral air bubble pacts formed by India with around 16 countries, including Germany. Puri said, "There is an opportunity in India for all foreign economic entities. But equally, where the commercial advantage is concerned, we also expect our carriers - when they go there (to those countries) - to also get those facilities." In September, Lufthansa was operating around 20 flights per week to India while Air India was operating around three flights per week to Germany.
"If the (air bubble) arrangement is being carried out only for sixth freedom right, then obviously we would want parity because we have direct flights between us and the US and between us and Canada. And we would like the US and the Canadian carrier (to operate). So, there is no difficulty in negotiation either," Puri mentioned. Sixth freedom right allows an airline to fly passengers from one country to the hub airport in its home country, and then put those passengers on a connecting flight to a third country.
A significant number of Indians use European carriers like Lufthansa or Gulf carriers like Emirates to go to the US or Canada. The DGCA told Lufthansa a few weeks back to not carry any sixth freedom passengers on its India-Germany flights. An airline operating flights under an air bubble pact cannot carry sixth freedom passengers from India, as per the DGCA. Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said at the press conference that India and Germany are in talks on how to re-establish the air bubble arrangement between the two countries.
"We had the first round of talks with Germany on Tuesday. They were held in a congenial atmosphere and they were very constructive talks. They put forth their viewpoint and we put our viewpoint. We are going to meet them in a day or two once again and the air bubble arrangement will be finalised with Germany," Kharola said.