NEW DELHI: Private airlines will soon be a part of the world’s largest repatriation exercise — Vande Bharat — and bring home Indians stranded abroad at fares similar to those being offered by Air India and AI Express flights during the first two phases of this ongoing mission. Aviation secretary P S Kharola on Tuesday held a meeting with private airlines to ask them if they would be willing to participate in this mission.
Airlines like IndiGo, SpiceJet and Vistara are learnt to be keen to do so.
While scheduled passenger flights are not allowed during the lockdown, most airlines have been operating special charters and all-cargo flights in this period which is now extended till May 31. On the issue of resuming scheduled commercial passenger flights, aviation minister HS Puri on Tuesday tweeted, “It is not upto aviation ministry or Centre alone to decide on resuming domestic flights. In the spirit of cooperative federalism, the governments of states where these flights will take off and land should be ready to allow civil aviation operations.”
AI and AI Express have flown back thousands of Indians from the Gulf, North America, Europe, southeast Asia and Australia under the Vande Bharat Mission that started on May 7. Lakhs of Indians have to be flown back to their country, with a vast majority from the Gulf — which IndiGo, SpiceJet and Vistara have on their networks. AirAsia India does not yet have the clearance to fly abroad.
These airlines were on Tuesday asked at the meeting with secretary Kharola if they would be willing to participate in the Vande Bharat Mission on terms similar to those of Air India. This means flying to those places from India with passengers — if any allowed by those countries with certain conditions (like AI does to the US, UK, Singapore and Australia) — and coming back with Indians from there.
SpiceJet CMD Ajay Singh said, “We will be very happy to participate in the Vande Bharat Mission if the government asks us to repatriate Indians from abroad. SpiceJet has been extending all possible assistance and will continue to do so to the best of its ability in these very difficult times.”
A Vistara spokesperson said, “We have offered our services to the government to support all their efforts in these tough times, whether it is transportation of relief material as part of ‘Mission Lifeline UDAN’ or operating repatriation flights. We’ll await direction on this from the (aviation) ministry.”
Currently the second phase of Vande Bahart mission is on till May 22 under which AI and AI Express will operate 149 flights to bring back countrymen from 31 countries. The next phase will be after May 22.