India’s government yesterday extended the country’s ban on international passenger flights without indicating when it might be lifted. NDTV reported that, on January 19, the suspension of passenger air travel in India had been extended through February 28, but will now continue until further notice.
The Indian aviation industry’s regulatory agency, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), wrote in Wednesday’s notice, “The competent authority has decided to extend the suspension of scheduled international commercial passenger services to/from India till further orders.”
“It was rather unexpected. We have been constantly following up with the government to open up the flights,” Ashish Gupta, CEO of the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality, told Fortune. “I expect we should see a quick revisit of the decision.”
India has kept its borders closed to the majority of foreign travelers since the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset in March 2020. While tourism providers in the region are understandably disappointed at Wednesday’s announcement, this isn’t the first time the restart of international air travel has been deferred.
On November 26 of last year, the DCGA had announced that scheduled international passenger flights would resume starting December 15. The following day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested that the Civil Aviation Ministry and the DGCA postpone the resumption due to fears over the then-unknown impacts of the newly emerged Omicron variant.
So, on December 1, the DGCA rescinded its earlier decision without offering any clues as to how long the suspension of overseas flights was to continue. That move crushed the Indian tourism industry’s hope of restarting in time for the peak Christmas and New Year season. Gupta said that Wednesday’s announcement may mean India’s travel providers will lose out on revenue they might otherwise have seen during the April-to-June period when students typically take their summer breaks.
While, broadly speaking, international air travel to and from India has been disallowed for nearly two years, specially sanctioned passenger flights have been operating for most of that period under so-called “air bubble” arrangements with certain countries—36 of them to date. Those using these bubbles to enter India do so for special circumstances, must be fully vaccinated and supply a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their departure.
On the subject, Confederation of Tourism Professionals’ President Subhash Goyal told Fortune that the cost of airfare on the limited number of available air-bubble flights is triple the amount it had been for similar flights before the pandemic.