International flights between India and Sri Lanka are scheduled to commence by the end of this month under a bilateral “air bubble” agreement, Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga confirmed yesterday.
He said the first regular post-pandemic international passenger flight will fly from the BIA to the new international airport in Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh at the end of this month. “Both Sri Lankans and Indians are eligible to travel to and from India and Sri Lanka subject to quarantine regulations of both countries,” he said.
A senior Ministry official said the Indian side had already submitted a set of proposals to the Foreign Ministry and the Tourism Ministry for an air bubble for the commencement of air travel between the two countries.
“The Ministry has already given its consent for the proposals and both parties have agreed to recommence the flights end of this month,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Ministry of India said that India has established an individual bilateral air bubble arrangement with Sri Lanka for the operation of special international passenger flights between the two countries.
An air bubble is a bilateral arrangement with a set of regulations and restrictions in which the carriers of the two countries can operate international flights under pandemic or other special conditions.
“India has finalized an air bubble agreement with Sri Lanka, making it the sixth such arrangement in the SAARC region and the 28th in total,” the Civil Aviation Ministry said on Twitter.
“All the eligible passengers will be able to travel between the two countries in the near future,” it noted.
Scheduled international flights have been suspended in India since March 23, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. India now has such pacts with 28 countries, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Canada, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, the Maldives, Nigeria, Qatar, the UAE, the UK and the USA.
India has already established individual bilateral bubbles with France, Germany and the US that will allow airlines of each country in the pact to operate international flights.
However, special international passenger flights have been operating under the Vande Bharat Mission since May last year and under bilateral air bubble arrangements since July.
SriLankan Airlines was expecting an air bubble arrangement to be signed by India and Sri Lanka by March-end, a senior official with the operator told Times of India. “We are waiting for India to sign the air bubble pact with Sri Lanka. We expect to start flight operations within a week of signing.” There were nearly 100 flights each week before the pandemic struck in March last year. Flights from Palaly to Chennai are also likely to resume in addition to the flights from the BIA, Colombo to a host of new and existing destinations in India. The worldwide aviation sector has seen a massive downturn over the last year as most countries shut their borders and travellers were forced to stay at home, compelling airlines to slash their flights.