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Bilateral Air Bubble Agreements – a ray of hope for the Travel, Tourism & Aviation industry

The outspread of bilateral air bubble agreements with more nations allowing to carry ‘eligible’ passengers to and from India and permitting travel agents to sell air tickets, will give a ray of hope to the travel and tourism industry- comprising airlines, GDS and NDC companies, travel agencies, and tour operators including hospitality segments. A great relief to lakhs of Indians stranded abroad to reach their home country and many those stranded non-resident Indian stranded non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the country holding residence or work permits of other nations can return to their workplace, said Biji Eapen, National President, IATA Agents Association of India (IAAI).

Vande Bharat Mission, the world’s largest expatriation exercise on a paid basis, was originally monopolised by Air India. Later allowed Indigo and SpiceJet to be part of it, sold tickets solely through airline websites. Due to capacity constraints on VBM flights, many Indians were compelled to depend on private chartered flights and spent very heftily, exorbitant money for getting a seat from GCC and other countries. Many private charterers mushroomed and minted money over rescue operations. If all the Indian carriers were made involved in this great Vande Bharat mission from the start, many of the Indians could have secured their finances from the private charterers.

IAAI was instrumental in changing the ‘ferry’ status to carry passengers on board. Shri Manoj Mannamparambil, an NRI businessman from Ajman coordinated through their Air Passenger Rights Forum and its legal counsel, filed a writ petition on July 7, before Hon. High Court of Kerala for want of his return flight from India. Within the notice period, Air India accommodated him in a repatriation flight. Also, bilaterally Emirates started operation, and subsequently, all repatriation flights are granted the rights to carry passengers up and down – repatriate stranded passengers to India and carry resident permit holders stranded in India to UAE. A change to the modus operandi – ticket sales permitted through airline websites as well as travel agencies and surprisingly, fares slashed tremendously down to a competitive edge.

Air travel will no longer be casual and will become costly due to the additional precautionary hygiene protocols, which will be in place for a very long time. Promoting one to one tie-up, like the bilateral air bubbles with the USA and UK, IAAI urges the government to take bold steps to tie up with other nations, where India has the right to operate flights.
IAAI has written to Hardeep Singh Puri, Hon Minister of Civil Aviation, Usha Padhe, Joint Secretary- MoCA, Arun Kumar, Director General, DGCA and Sunil Kumar, DDG – Regulation & Information Directorate and have requested to consider COVID as a tool of power to revamp the Indian skies as a role model in the global aviation industry. Such a move shall be the first global step towards the revival and recovery of the travel and tourism segments, which was almost shut permanently since the pandemic escalated in March 2020.

IAAI letter emphasised that an outstretched ‘Air Bubble’ agreements must encourage more international flights to operate with quality services and increased self-services under WHO and MHA guidelines. As ticket pricing depends on the demand and supply, competitions will precisely reduce airfares. The major advantage is that the passengers will have the facility to make ticketing directly through airline websites or travel agencies at their convenience. Slowly, this will open gateways to Indian tourism and hospitality, a ray of hope that may help the industry to survive.