An Air India plane on the runway in Mumbai. Photo: AFP / Himanshu Bhatt / NurPhoto

The panic created by the new Covid variant Omicron has forced the Indian government to hit the pause button on resuming scheduled international flights.

Last Friday, the civil aviation ministry announced that international flights, which were suspended in March last year, would resume from December 15. But after various countries suspended flights, citing concerns over Omicron, the Indian government also decided to put its earlier move on hold.

According to a note from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation: “In view of the merging global scenario … the situation is being watched closely in consultation with all stakeholders and an appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services shall be notified in due course.”

The government released a list of at-risk countries and travelers from these nations will have to follow additional measures on arrival in India. They include the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, Israel and some European nations.

However, international flights will continue to operate on a smaller scale and with 31 countries with which India has bilateral air bubble agreements.

India resumed domestic flights on May 25 last year with limited occupancy and strict Covid protocols, but now airlines have been allowed to operate at full capacity. Air passenger traffic saw a 67% year-on-year and 24% sequential growth to about 8.8 million passengers in October.

A revival of the travel and hospitality industry, and the ongoing festive season, has led to a revival of the civil aviation sector in a limited way. But the airlines were looking forward to the resumption of scheduled international flights to improve their finances.

The sector also witnessed the sale of the country’s state-owned carrier Air India to the Tata Group, and a move to revive the defunct Jet Airways. Both airlines had a significant presence internationally.