Air India planes on the tarmac. Photo: AFP

India will resume scheduled international flights from March 27, nearly two years after they were suspended in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said, “After deliberation with stakeholders and keeping in view the decline in the Covid caseload, we have decided to resume international travel from March 27 onwards.”

India had suspended all scheduled international flights on March 23, 2020, when coronavirus cases started rising globally. Since then it has extended the ban numerous times as Covid cases continued to remain high.

The minister also said that with the resumption of international flights, the bilateral air bubbles with 37 countries will be revoked. In such an arrangement, carriers of each country were allowed to operate a limited number of international flights to other’s territory with specific restrictions. This helped the Indian diaspora and students visit the country for emergency purposes.

The civil aviation ministry, however, clarified that the forthcoming scheduled international operations will be subject to strict adherence to Covid safety guidelines laid down by the Health Ministry.

“After having recognized the increased vaccination coverage across the globe and in consultation with stakeholders, the government of India has decided to resume scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India from March 27,” a civil aviation ministry notification stated.

IndiGo airline CEO Ronojoy Dutta welcomed the announcement and said it will provide impetus to the recovery of the aviation sector. He said the airline will soon be announcing the schedule for international destinations in accordance with the new guidelines.

Air India, which was recently acquired by Tata Group, has a substantial presence on international routes and the new announcement will come as a shot in the arm for the struggling airline.

For Indians residing in countries with which India had no travel bubble agreement, the reopening announcement will come as a relief, analysts said. Overall, travelers to India will have more choices and the flight charges are expected to fall accordingly.

Airfares under the air bubble flights were nearly three to four times higher than normal fares. However, prices may not fall to pre-pandemic levels as global crude oil prices spiral towards record levels while the Indian rupee falls toward record lows.

Most airlines in India have been reporting heavy losses amid Covid-19 travel restrictions. Though domestic flights were restored in 2020 after a two-month closure, the recovery has been uneven as second and third waves of Covid and localized lockdowns kept passengers away.