Parked planes at Mumbai airport, where traffic had fallen dramatically due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

After a two-year gap, scheduled international flights resumed in India on Sunday. Scheduled international flights were banned along with domestic flights on March 23, 2020, due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although domestic flights resumed two months later, international flights were stopped due to the high number of coronavirus cases across the world.

However, India had operated limited international passenger flights after entering into bilateral air bubble agreements with selected countries and with strict Covid protocols in place.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia expressed confidence that people from India are eager to go abroad and vice versa. He hoped the civil aviation sector will revive.

While Indian airlines are keen to restart normal international services, various foreign airlines, including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and LOT Polish, have announced plans about services to and from India. The country’s leading airline, IndiGo, plans to resume scheduled international flights on more than 150 routes in a phased manner during the next month.

It will operate flights from cities such as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Amritsar, Kozhikode, Kochi, Chandigarh, Tiruchirappalli, Thiruvananthapuram and Mangaluru. The foreign destinations will include Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore, Colombo, Dubai, Kathmandu, Maldives, Dhaka, Dammam, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Jeddah, Riyadh and Doha.

Gulf carrier Emirates announced it will reintroduce pre-pandemic service frequency across its destinations in India from April 1. In pre-pandemic days Emirates used to operate 170 weekly flights to nine destinations, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, and they will resume from April 1.

American Airlines plans to resume its daily service between New York and New Delhi. It is also looking forward to increasing its presence in India through its codeshare agreement with IndiGo airlines. It has plans to start flights between technology hubs Seattle and Bangalore later this year.

Sri Lankan Airlines plans to start operating up to 88 weekly flights to India to match the pre-Covid flight schedule. The airline flies to nine cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Chennai and Bangalore. Poland-based LOT Polish Airlines has said it would commence flights to Delhi from March 29 and Mumbai from May 31.

According to airline watchdog the Director General of Civil Aviation, as many as 60 airlines from 40 countries have been permitted to operate 1,783 flights to and from India during the summer schedule, which kicked in from March 27 and will be effective till October 29.

A total of 1,466 international departures per week have been approved for six Indian carriers for the summer schedule. They will operate to 43 destinations in 27 countries.

The government has revised Covid-19 guidelines for international flight operations, including the removal of the requirement to keep three seats vacant on overseas flights for medical emergencies. The requirement for the crew to have a complete PPE kit has been done away with.

The country’s civil aviation industry was badly bruised by the pandemic, with most airlines reporting consecutive quarterly losses. Although domestic flights are now on the mend, with a low number of coronavirus cases and relaxations of Covid safety protocols, the resumption of normal overseas flights is expected to provide a fillip to the sector.