Repatriation flights from UAE to India
India and the UAE are currently in a 15-day special agreement to operate flights from July 12 to 26 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: India will review the special flight agreement with the UAE to fly UAE residents from India to the UAE by next week, the country’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Thursday.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi which was streamed live on YouTube, Puri said the “Air Bubble agreements” India has made with Middle East carriers for two weeks will be reviewed next week to take stock of the demand depending on which a decision to extend the service can be taken.

“We will see how these operations are conducted and based on that we can take a decision,” he said.

Air Bubble agreements refer to a special agreements made between two countries to operate flights under certain standard operating procedures (SOPs) unlike in scheduled commercial services. Passengers with visas will require a special layer of approval to travel under these agreements, Puri explained.

India and the UAE had made a 15-day special agreement to operate flights to help UAE residents stuck in India return to the UAE from July 12 to 26.

As per the agreement, Air India and Air India Express flights operating repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission from the UAE to India can fly UAE residents stuck in India back to the UAE on their departure leg of the flight.

Similarly, UAE carriers operating chartered flights for repatriating stranded Indians in the UAE can bring back UAE residents stuck in India on the return leg of the flights.

Puri said such Air Bubble agreements are dependent on the behaviour of the coronavirus [the spread of infection in cities where the flights are operating to and from] and the demand and supply of passengers.

Since it has just been a few days since the India-UAE operations began, he said it will be reviewed only next week.

“I will request my colleagues to review the arrangement and see how much of an extension period is required depending on the demand,” he said.

Few flyers from India to UAE so far

However, the details divulged during the press conference indicated that the demand was significantly low on these flights despite reports of thousands of UAE residents requesting to be flown back from India.

Only 884 passengers were flown from India to the UAE on the first two days of the special flights (July 12 and 13) Air India and Air India Express flights.

This was released by Rajiv Bansal, chairman and managing director of Air India group, in a presentation on the Vande Bharat Mission during the press conference.

While Dubai saw the highest number of arrivals from India with 505 passengers, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi flights flew in 270 and 109 passengers respectively, the data released by Bansal showed.

Industry sources told Gulf News that UAE carriers operating India-UAE flights as part of the special agreement also brought in a very few number of passengers from India to the UAE in the first couple of days.

While one VBM repatriation flight from Sharjah to Delhi came to Sharjah with just two passengers, another charter repatriation flight from Sharjah to Thiruvananthapuram returned with just one passenger, Gulf News has learnt.

Some of the flights operated by both Indian and UAE carriers have flown in passengers in two digits while flights from some Indian cities came with almost full load later on.

Sources cited various issues ranging from the sudden announcement of the flight operations to the difficulties faced by passengers in getting COVID-19 negative results and special approvals for flying in to the UAE as per the requirements.

Puri reiterated that these flights are operated under fairly strict SOPs and airlines were reminded to comply with them.

The SOPs are determined based on recommendations by the ministries of health, home, and civil aviation and the flights are required to take special permission from the state governments and Indian missions concerned.