Amidst the ongoing speculations around the early resumption of scheduled international commercial flights, the Government of India has made the announcement to further extend the Covid-19 related restrictions placed on travel and visa, In an order, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) informed about the decision when the travel and tourism industry was expecting no extension and hoping for regular flights from March 15.
Earlier, reports suggested that the government is mulling to remove the exiting travel and visa restrictions and resume scheduled international commercial flights to and from India. But the travel and tourism industry has to wait a little longer as a decision is expected around the first fortnight of March 2022. As per the revised circular shared by the DGCA, the current restrictions will continue to apply till ‘further orders’ and not till the end of the month, like the authority has been making the announcement around the end of every month since it first imposed curbs.
With the extension of restrictions, scheduled international commercial flights will not operate to and from India. However, the international air operations will continue to ply on the basis of the air bubble arrangement along all existing cargo operations will also continue as usual despite the restrictions.
The ban on regular international flights has proved to be a big setback for the industry reeling under the impact of Covid-19 and curtailed tourism-related business. With no international tourism business for the third consecutive tourism season, the travel trade and the industry in the country will continue to face challenges to their survival.
The travel trade is also waiting to hear about the resumption of e-tourist visas for key source markets such as the UK and Canada. Industry bodies including IATO have been pitching to the government for this along with an extension on the validity of the first five-lakh free visa for international tourists announced as part of the relief measures by the Finance Minister last year. It is about to expire on March 31, 2022.After a long hiatus of more than 20 months, India had finally decided to resume scheduled international commercial flights from December 15 in November 2021. However, amidst rising fears and panic around the new Covid- 19 variant Omron, the government had to take back its order after making an announcement on November 26 to postpone the move until further orders. The government had earlier announced restrictions on international travel and visa services till February 28.
Commenting on the government’s decision, Ajay Prakash, President, Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) the travel trade is extremely disappointed at the decision to suspend scheduled international passenger flights “until further orders.” “The entire travel & tourism industry has been crippled over the last 23 months; the Government has failed to provide any tangible relief even as thousands of businesses have been bankrupted and lakhs of people have lost their jobs. Travelers are being harassed with sky high airfares on account of the reduced inventory but none of this seems to matter to the powers that be,” he said.
“Scheduled flights were to resume from 15 December last year but two and a half months later we are still clueless on when that might finally happen. The whole world is opening up and welcoming travellers. India has among the highest vaccination and lowest infection rates in the world. What are we waiting for? We strongly appeal to the Hon’ble PM to take an informed decision and to open the Indian skies to international traffic without any further delay,” he further added.